A Phi Kappa Psi fraternity chapter disclosed Tuesday that it will receive $1.65 million to drop its lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine in a defamation case involving allegations — later debunked — that University of Virginia students participated in a gang rape.
A spokesman for the fraternity, Brian Ellis, confirmed the amount of the settlement payment in an email to The Washington Post. Terms of the agreement to settle and dismiss the suit in state court in Charlottesville will be finalized in coming days.
“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 Virginia Alpha chapter of the fraternity wrote in a statement. “The chapter looks forward to donating a significant portion of its settlement proceeds to organizations that provide sexual assault awareness education, prevention training and victim counseling services on college campuses.”
The statement said members of the fraternity would not be available for interviews.
Rolling Stone declined to comment.
The lawsuit, filed in 2015, was the third defamation case brought against the magazine stemming from its November 2014 publication of “A Rape on Campus.”
The 9,000-word account detailed blistering allegations of sexual assault at U-Va., including what the magazine described as a brutal gang rape hazing ritual.
The article described the experiences of a U-Va. student named “Jackie,” who told of being assaulted by seven men while two others watched at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party during her freshman year in 2012. Amid a national resurgence of interest in campus sexual assault cases, the Rolling Stone story drew widespread attention almost instantly for its raw portrayal of fraternity culture run amok. The article, an online viral sensation by journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely, attracted huge readership to the magazine’s website.
But Rolling Stone later retracted the article after an investigation by The Post showed that the magazine’s reporting and fact-checking was fatally flawed.
Two reports, by the Charlottesville Police Department and Columbia University journalism school, confirmed The Post’s findings that the assault described in Rolling Stone never occurred.
After the article’s retraction, U-Va. administrator Nicole Eramo filed a lawsuit claiming that she was erroneously portrayed as callous and indifferent to Jackie’s rape allegations. Eramo sought $7.5 million.
In November, a jury ruled in Eramo’s favor and awarded her $3 million, but during appeal the case was settled confidentially. Three alumni members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity had filed a separate lawsuit in federal court against the magazine, but a judge dismissed that case in June 2016.
In accepting the $1.65 million settlement now, the U-Va. Phi Kappa Psi chapter is forgoing a jury trial and dropping its original request for $25 million.
The settlement is likely to mark a conclusion to the legal phase of the Rolling Stone story and its aftermath.
U-Va., a prestigious public flagship university, was thrown into tumult when the story was first published. President Teresa A. Sullivan briefly suspended fraternities that fall and took other measures intended to improve campus safety. Then, after the story was debunked and retracted, the university sought to repair any damage it had sustained to its public image. On Tuesday, U-Va. spokesman Matt Charles said the university had no comment on the emerging legal settlement in the case.
For Phi Kappa Psi, the plaintiff, the settlement will end an ordeal that tested the fraternity’s bonds. After the story’s publication, the fraternity mansion was defaced with graffiti, including a scrawl that read “UVA center for rape studies,” and windows were vandalized, leaving shards of glass covering the floors. Members of the chapter went into hiding, booking hotel rooms to avoid going near the house.
In previous interviews with The Post, fraternity members have said they knew within 24 hours of the article’s publication that they had evidence casting doubt on the Rolling Stone account.
For Rolling Stone, the fallout from the debunked story and ensuing lawsuits, combined with a flagging industry, continues to take a heavy toll, said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism. He said there are signs that the magazine is in trouble, appearing to have fewer ads and pages.
“If you look at the magazine today, it’s starting to look like a shadow of its past,” Husni said. “It is something you can’t hide. The magazine is not in a healthy place.”
The biggest hit the magazine has endured, Husni said, is to its reputation as an outlet for investigative journalism. “In addition to the music and the entertainment, investigative stories were a cornerstone of Rolling Stone,” he said. “But where are they now? Magazines cannot survive on memory or on history. Magazines survive on the future.”
Joe Heim contributed to this report.