A federal judge issued several rulings in former University Dean Nicole Eramo’s $7.85 million defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone in U.S. District Court Thursday.
Eramo, who now works in the vice president’s office, is suing Rolling Stone Magazine, writer Sabrina Erdely and Wenner Media over her depiction in the now debunked article, “A Rape On Campus,” which was published in November 2014 and detailed an alleged gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
A subsequent investigation by the Charlottesville Police Department found no evidence for the claims “Jackie” raised in the article. Rolling Stone retracted the article in April 2015.
Eramo, who worked with sexual assault survivors as an associate dean, claims she was falsely depicted in the article as indifferent towards Jackie’s case.
The Daily Progress reported that during the hour-long pre-trial hearing, Judge Glen E. Conrad ruled Eramo can be considered a “limited purpose public figure,” meaning Eramo has become well-known with regard to a specific issue and must prove the article was published with actual malice.
This is a higher standard of proof than Eramo would have faced if she was found as a private figure, which only requires proving a “defamatory falsehood was negligently published.”
Eramo’s attorneys previously argued she should be considered a private figure.
“She was merely a private citizen and low-level university administrator before Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely decided to smear her name before the entire country, and prior to the publication of the article Ms. Eramo had never discussed Jackie’s allegations in any kind of public forum — in fact she was prohibited by law from doing so,” Eramo’s attorneys said in court filing from July.
However, the defendants argued Eramo was at the forefront of a public issue as chair of the University’s Sexual Misconduct Board, and also cited interactions with the press on topics related to sexual assault prior to the publishing of “A Rape On Campus.”
“Eramo voluntarily injected herself into the public controversy surrounding how universities should respond to sexual assault on campus,” attorneys for the defendants said in a July filing.
The Daily Progress also reported Conrad will allow the “actual malice” in the case to be determined by a jury, which will consist of seven members.
The jury will be created from a pool of 100 potential jurors, and University employees will not be allowed to serve on the jury — although University alumni will be allowed to serve, The Daily Progress reports.
Eramo’s suit is set to go to trial Oct. 17.