Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo filed a defamation lawsuit Tuesday morning against Rolling Stone magazine, Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Wenner Media for defamatory statements made against her in Rolling Stone’s Nov. 19 story “A Rape on Campus,” as well as in other media promoting the article.
The lawsuit follows an open letter Eramo sent to Rolling Stone CEO Jann Wenner on April 22. In the letter, Eramo described the now-discredited article’s negative impact on University community, on advocacy efforts against sexual assault and on her own professional and personal reputation.
A statement released by Eramo’s law firm, Clare Locke LLP, said that the complaint alleges that Rolling Stone, in publishing the article, aimed to weave a narrative that portrayed the University and Eramo as indifferent to rape on campus and as more concerned about protecting the University’s reputation.
“The Complaint alleges that the defendants made the defamatory statements about Dean Eramo recklessly and in purposeful disregard of facts, witnesses, and evidence, in order to present a preconceived storyline that Dean Eramo discouraged the reporting of a violent rape to law enforcement because she was more concerned with protecting the University’s reputation than with assisting victims of sexual assault,” the press release reads.
The complaint details specific instances in which “to personify the University’s alleged institutional indifference to rape, Erdely and Rolling Stone cast Dean Eramo … as the chief villain of the story” and Eramo’s interactions with Erdely and the magazine’s attorneys. The complaint also alleges that Erdely and Rolling Stone continued to make defamatory statements during a publicity tour which followed the article’s publication and its subsequent retraction.
“The article … caused a national media firestorm and has been viewed online more than 2.7 million times,” the complaint reads. “From November 26, 2014 until December 5, 2014 — when Rolling Stone was finally forced to admit publicly that it had lost faith in the story… — Erdely and Rolling Stone continued to conduct a nationwide press tour in which they repeatedly and callously doubled down on their false claims that Dean Eramo was indifferent to Jackie’s allegations, that she did nothing in response to them, that she did not report them to the police, and that she instead sought to suppress Jackie’s allegations and discourage her from reporting them.”
Additionally, according to the complaint, Rolling Stone employed a high-profile illustrator to intentionally alter a photo of Eramo — originally provided by The Cavalier Daily, though the newspaper was not told the photo would later be modified — to further underscore its false, negative portrayal of Eramo.
“Rolling Stone retained Ritter Illustrations with the specific intent to portray Dean Eramo in a highly negative manner — specifically by causing Ritter to doctor the image in a way to give the appearance of Dean Eramo sitting at her desk, sneering while a sexual assault victim sits crying in front of her,” the complaint reads. “A simple comparison of the original photograph and Rolling Stone’s manipulated version of the image demonstrates the lengths Erdely and Rolling Stone were willing to go to portray Dean Eramo as a villain.”
The lawsuit, filed in the Circuit Court of the City of Charlottesville, seeks $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages, in addition to “awarding Dean Eramo all expenses and costs, including attorney’s fees.”
A fund has been established by an organization called “True Hoos” to raise funds for Eramo’s legal fees. Students, professors, faculty and other individuals from the University community have already raised raised $24,000 on the crowdfunding website, which lists a goal of $500,000.
Donations have come from individuals such as Claire Kaplan, director of gender violence and social change at the Women’s Center and Patricia Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer. Parents of current students, and Board of Visitors student representative Meg Gould, a 2015 College graduate, have also donated to the website.
Rolling Stone could not be reached for comment.