On July 29, three Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brothers and UVA graduates filed a complaint against Rolling Stone, Wenner Media and journalist Sabrina Erdely in U.S. District Court for the now-discredited and retracted November 2014 story titled “A Rape on Campus,” which described the alleged gang rape of a girl called “Jackie” at the fraternity house.
George Elias IV, Stephen Hadford and Ross Fowler were members of UVA’s class of 2013 and members of the fraternity at the time of the alleged rape.
Their complaint says the statements and accusations of the events that occurred at Phi Kappa Psi are “categorically false and have been disproved by publicly available information,” and “the article contained sufficient identifying facts to match plaintiffs as the rapists.” The men are suing for three counts including defamation and negligent infliction of emotional distress and asking for at least $75,000 for each count.
In 2012, the year of the alleged rape, Elias lived in the first room at the top of the first flight of stairs and at Phi Kappa Psi. The complaint says vivid evidence from the story shows that his room was likely the scene of the crime and as a result, Elias was interrogated, humiliated and scolded by family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers and reporters.
Hadford and Fowler suffered similar attacks, according to the complaint, and all three of the men’s names and hometowns were listed on blogs, such as the notorious FairfaxUnderground.com, by anonymous users, identifying them as participants in the alleged rape. Hundreds of horrific comments and accusations still exist, and the full names of Elias, Hadford and Fowler will always be associated with the story, says the lawsuit.
“I think it’s a really hard lawsuit to win,” says legal expert Dave Heilberg. Defamation lawsuits are hard to win in general and, unlike UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo, who is also suing Rolling Stone for defamation, these men were not named in the article by Erdely and are not considered public figures. In fact, Heilberg says, now that they’ve filed the lawsuit, more people probably associate their names with the alleged gang rape than ever before.
On April 5, Rolling Stone retracted the article and its managing editor, Will Dana, issued an apology to the readers and “to all of those who were damaged by our story.” After 19 years at the magazine, Dana announced July 29 that he is resigning from Rolling Stone and his last planned day is August 7, according to the New York Times.
When asked by the Times if his resignation was linked to the suits or the story, he said only via a spokesperson that “many factors go into a decision like this.”
Updated July 31, 2015