A jury on Monday awarded $3 million in damages to Nicole Eramo, a University of Virginia administrator who was defamed by Rolling Stone magazine in a now-retracted article about campus rape.
The federal jury in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday found reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Rolling Stone, and its parent company, Wenner Media, liable for defamation of Eramo. Erdely has been ordered to pay $2 million, and Rolling Stone and Wenner Media $1 million.
Eramo originally sought $7.85 million, but withdrew her request for $350,000 in punitive damages last month as the trial started.
The lawsuit arose from a 2014 article Erdely wrote for Rolling Stone about how sexual misconduct is handled at UVA, which Eramo argued portrayed her as the “chief villain” who discouraged students from reporting rape to the police. The story fell apart after the main plot line in the article, about an alleged gang rape of Jackie at a fraternity, was discredited just over two weeks after publication.
Erdely was found by the jury to have acted with actual malice, meaning that she deliberately ignored doubts or red flags about the accuracy of her article at the time of publication on Nov. 19, 2014. Rolling Stone and Wenner Media were deemed liable for republishing the story with an editor’s note at the top on Dec. 5, 2014, that explained the staff had lost in faith in the accuracy of the article.
The jury also found that Erdely defamed Eramo when she made statements in news interviews by saying the “administration did nothing” when it learned of Jackie’s alleged assault, which the lawsuit said was in reference to Eramo.
The trial showed that Eramo arranged for counseling services for Jackie, helped her connect to support groups, tried to get her to report to police, and worked with other administrators to get the fraternity to investigate the alleged assault on their own.
Rolling Stone officially retracted the article in April 2015.
Eramo insisted she suffered mental anguish over the story, and was stripped of her duties working with sexual assault victims, which included losing her dean title. Rolling Stone suggested changes in her job duties were due to U.S. Department of Education saying UVA violated Title IX in handling sexual misconduct under her watch, and noted that Eramo received a promotion since the article.
When asked on the stand during the trial what she wanted out of the lawsuit, Eramo said she wanted financial security for her family, and to hold Rolling Stone accountable.
“It’s not fair, it’s not right, and people need to know that,” Eramo said during the trial. “You can’t just do drive-by journalism.”
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