Feedback
News

Rolling Stone Magazine Settles Rape Story Lawsuit for $1.65 Million

After several years of legal upheaval over a contested story about an alleged on-campus gang rape, Rolling Stone Magazine is putting an end to its battle with a University of Virginia fraternity by agreeing to pay the group $1.65 million to settle a defamation lawsuit, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

The settlement serves as the last leg of a controversy sparked by the November 2014 story "A Rape on Campus,” about a woman identified only as "Jackie" who claimed to be raped by members of the school's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity as part of an initiation rite.

The article, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was retracted in April 2015 after a police investigation found no evidence to back up Jackie's account.

Image:
FILE - This Nov. 24, 2014, file photo, shows the Phi Kappa Psi house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. Steve Helber / ASSOCIATED PRESS

The story was also shown to be poorly vetted by a separate journalistic investigation the magazine requested from the Columbia University School of Journalism, which ultimately called the piece a "journalistic failure."

The Virginia Alpha Chapter of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, which had asked for $25 million, said in a statement that its members are glad to be able to put the "ordeal" behind them, according to the AP.

Their case against the magazine was slated to go to trial in October.

"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 to the Associated Press.

Phi Kappa Psi did not return requests for comment by NBC News.

In their complaint, the fraternity claimed the magazine knew that Jackie was not a reliable source but proceeded to publish her story without verifying all of her facts. The writer did not attempt to reach out to the alleged ringleader of the supposed attack or contact any others who could have debunked the story, the suit claimed.

Image: Sabrina Rubin Erderly
Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely walks with her legal team to federal court on November 1, 2016 in Charlottesville. File Steve Helber / AP File

"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 read.

Rolling Stone did not immediately return requests for comment by NBC News. The magazine's representatives declined comment to the AP except to say the settlement had just been reached and has not yet been entered in court.

The fraternity's defamation claims against the magazine and Erdely, had been due to go to trial in October.

In April, the magazine agreed to pay university administrator Nicole Eramo an undisclosed amount to settle her defamation lawsuit.

Eramo claimed the article portrayed her as a villain who discouraged Jackie from reporting the incident to police. A police investigation found no evidence to back up that claim by Jackie.

The story of the 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 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, according to the AP.