RICHMOND, Va. – Rolling Stone agreed to pay $1.65 million to settle a defamation lawsuit filed by a University of Virginia fraternity over a debunked story about a rape on campus, the fraternity said Tuesday.
The settlement closes the final chapter of a lengthy legal saga sparked by the 2014 story “A Rape on Campus,” which was retracted after a police investigation found no evidence to back up the harrowing account of the woman identified in the story only as “Jackie.”
The Virginia Alpha Chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, which had sought $25 million, said in a statement that its members are glad to be able to put the “ordeal” behind them.
“It has been nearly three years since we, and the entire University of Virginia community, were shocked by the now infamous article, and we are pleased to be able to close the book on that trying ordeal and its aftermath,” the fraternity said.
Rolling Stone declined to comment.
The story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, of Philadelphia, about Jackie’s gang rape set off a firestorm at the University of Virginia and in schools nationwide and prompted police to launch an investigation into the alleged assault. The article crumbled after other news outlets began asking questions and police found no evidence to back up Jackie’s claims. The story was officially retracted in April 2015.
The fraternity’s case had been scheduled to go to trial in October. The fraternity said it plans to donate “a significant portion” of the settlement to groups that provide sexual assault awareness education, prevention training and victim counseling services.
The fraternity claimed that the magazine knew that Jackie was not a reliable source and ignored red flags indicating that her story was flawed. The reporter did not verify the existence of the alleged ringleader of Jackie’s attack or contact others who could have debunked the story.
“Rolling Stone and Erdely had an agenda, and they were recklessly oblivious to the harm they would cause innocent victims in their ruthless pursuit of that agenda,” the fraternity’s lawsuit said.
Rolling Stone earlier this year settled another defamation lawsuit filed by university administrator Nicole Eramo after a jury awarded her $3 million. Lawyers did not provide the settlement dollar amount in that case.
A federal judge in New York last year threw out another lawsuit over the story filed by three former fraternity members.