A federal jury in Charlottesville awarded Associate Dean Nicole Eramo $3 million in November against Rolling Stone magazine over its portrayal of her in a discredited story on sexual assault at the University of Virginia.
The damages verdict followed the jury’s tagging the magazine, its corporate parent and writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely with 12 counts of defamation with actual malice. Six of the findings, representing $2 million of the award, went against Erdely personally, the jury knowing that Rolling Stone had agreed beforehand to cover her exposure. Erdely’s 9,000-word narrative, “A Rape on Campus,” purported to tell “Jackie’s” story, a since-debunked account of a fraternity gang rape. It painted Eramo as an uncaring administrator who discouraged victims from going to the police, a viewpoint Erdely tried to defend at trial.
The story became a national sensation when it published in November 2014, leading to more than 1.4 million magazine copies sold and 2.4 million unique visitors to Rolling Stone’s website. The fallout, Eramo showed the jury, led to her reassignment out of a position she says she considered her life’s calling, helping sexual assault victims, and subjected her to hateful attacks in emails, on social media and outside her door one month ahead of her having to undergo cancer surgery and chemotherapy. Rolling Stone eventually retracted the story April 5, 2015, publishing a Columbia Journalism Review internal investigation it had commissioned. Eramo's $3 million win sets the stage for a local fraternity’s pending state court suit against Erdely and Rolling Stone. The story named and pictured the Phi Kappa Psi house along the way to giving vivid details of an event there that apparently never happened.