The University of Virginia fraternity that was a subject of a sensational article in Rolling Stone about a brutal campus rape filed a defamation lawsuit Monday against the magazine and the article's writer for $25 million.
"The reputation that Phi Kappa Psi and its alumni spend decades building was destroyed overnight," the lawsuit said. "The formerly respected fraternity is now known colloquially in the University of Virginia community as 'the rape frat.'"
Even after doubts about the story surfaced, the lawsuit said, the magazine and the reporter who wrote the story, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, reacted by "doubling down on its original article, standing by its story, engaging in deception and cover-up," and lying about sources for the article.
Published in November 2014, the article claimed that a UVA freshman identified as "Jackie" was given alcoholic punch, led to a dark bedroom at the fraternity, pushed into a glass table that shattered, then raped by seven fraternity members as she lay on glass shards.
After police in Charlottesville failed to find any evidence of the attack -- and following a scathing critique of the magazine by the Columbia School of Journalism -- the magazine formally retracted the story in April 2015 and issued a public apology.
When the story was published, the lawsuit said, outraged members of the community threw rocks and bottles at the fraternity house and vandalized cars outside. Many fraternity members "reasonably feared for their safety," and some moved to hotel rooms.
Rolling Stone, the lawsuit said, "set out in advance to find a sensational story of graphic and violent rape, searched for such a story at elite universities," and failed to do the normal fact checking after Erdely turned in her article.
"The story was simply too tempting, too sensational, to let facts get in the way."
Through a spokeswoman, Rolling Stone declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The suit was filed in Virginia state court by a Charlottesville lawyer, Thomas Albro, and Rodney Smolla, a nationally recognized expert on defamation law and Dean of the Widener University Delaware Law School.
The magazine also faces lawsuits from a UVA official and three fraternity members and recent graduates.