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(right, the bright and beautiful Miss South Carolina, now at the Wharton School of Business; photo links to the NYT article on the Pageant’s broken promises)

Before there’s Miss America, there’s Miss California, South Carolina, Oklahoma and the remainder of the fifty states.

The problem?

The local “Miss” pageants — the stepping stones up the ladder to Miss America — pretty much all offer scholarships as prize money to winners, many of whom may well not be able to begin or complete their university studies without it.

Apparently, some of the Miss America pageants’ lower reaches (franchises) are not honoring their promises to provide these scholarships to the beautiful, dynamic and talented young women who become Miss New Orleans or Los Angeles.

According to this morning’s New York Times article on the issue, at least one young woman was required to file her demand for the promised scholarship money from the Miss Five Boroughs Scholarship Pageant in small claims court.

The REAL ADR Option

As any attorney (and lots of others know) winning a small claims judgment is often a phyrric victory.  No one tells the regular people who line the walls of the daily small claims calendar-call that it will probably be difficult (if not impossible) to collect their judgment.

If your dispute is sexy however — and how could Miss Louisiana or Miss Carnegie, PA not be — the real ADR is the court of public opinion.

After winning her case by default in small claims court in Manhattan against the Miss Five Boroughs franchise, the scholarship winner

took her story to a local television station. She was paid within two days of the broadcast of her account, she said. The organizer of the now-disbanded pageant did not return calls for comment.

“Basically, if I hadn’t gone after them, I wouldn’t have gotten my money,” [winner] Ms. Songhai said. “There is no real checks and balances to make sure the contestants get their money.” She said that competing in Miss Five Boroughs was fun, but added, “They are disorganized and they are bad with money management.”

Scholarship?  How About a Few Used Ball Gowns?

The Times article again:

Saidah Story won a $1,000 scholarship as Miss Inland Empire 2003 in California, but her mother, Renee Wickman, said the pageant director informed her that there would be no scholarship.

“Instead of the scholarship, she was like, ‘You can take these gowns,’ ” Ms. Wickman said.

The pageant folded after that year. Bob Arnhym, president of the Miss California Pageant, said the Miss Inland Empire director moved to Canada because her mother had fallen ill, but had notified the state she had given Ms. Story “the full value of the scholarship.”

Despite contractual agreements, the state organizations say they have only limited enforcement of local scholarships. .  .

In theory, state pageants could take local pageants to court, but “that legal battle is prohibitive financially,” Mr. Brown said. “It’s not worth doing that for a scholarship which is $1,000.”

Whenever we hear “too little money to litigate,” it pricks up our ADR ears.  Our solution is always a modest one.  If these are franchises of the far better funded Miss America Pageant, how about requiring those franchises to maintain blocked accounts in which to hold the scholarship money to which only the National organization has access?

Alternatively, the Miss America organization could maintain its own fund — much like the funds against which insureds can make claims when their carriers go bust — so that contest winners are guaranteed the small scholarships that they work their hearts out for.

If disputes develop, mediation clauses followed by inexpensive arbitration procedures, could quickly and efficiently resolve these dispute and allow young women the fruits of their considerable labor.


Victoria Pynchon

Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all… MORE >

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