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MANHATTAN from www.courthousenews.com – – A Miss USA contestant who didn’t make the semifinals must pay $5 million for defaming the pageant by claiming it was “rigged” and “trashy,” for, among other things, allowing “natural born males to compete in it,” an arbitrator ruled.
Sheena Monnin, Miss Pennsylvania 2012, competed for the Miss USA title in June. When she failed to make it to final 16, Monnin renounced her Miss Pennsylvania title, claiming in an email to the Pennsylvania pageant director that the competition was “f-ing rigged,” according to 74 pages of documents filed in Federal Court, including a Proposed Order and Judgment Confirming Arbitration Award.
In that email, she also wrote: “I refuse to be part of a pageant system that has so far and so completely removed itself from its foundational principles as to allow and support natural born males to compete in it. This goes against every moral fiber of my being,” the arbitrator found.
In a Facebook post that night, Monnin wrote: “In good conscience I can no longer be affiliated in any way with an organization I consider to be fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy,” according to the lengthy court filings.
After she resigned, Monnin claimed she had heard from another contestant, Miss Florida, that the five Miss USA finalists had been unfairly selected before the televised stage of the competition. She also publicly criticized the pageant’s decision to allow transgendered contestants.
Miss Universe LP, which runs the Miss USA pageant and the Miss Universe competition, claimed that Monnin’s statements defamed it. It submitted a claim for arbitration along with a breach of contract claim, and requested an injunction.
The arbitrator, retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz, concluded last week that Monnin’s statements were defamatory and malicious, and ordered her to pay $5 million in damages to the pageant organization.
Miss Universe franchises competitions in the 50 states and District of Columbia and in 90 foreign countries. Miss USA is selected from the winners of the state competitions, and competes in the Miss Universe pageant against winners of other countries’ pageants.
Monnin competed in the 2012 Miss USA pageant after winning her state’s title in December 2011.
When she entered the competition, Monnin signed an official entry form barring contestants from activities that could harm the pageant’s reputation until one day after Miss USA 2012 is selected.
But the Miss Universe Organization claims that as soon as Monnin realized she was not one of 16 semifinalists who would participate in the televised pageant, she made defamatory comments about the pageant on Facebook and on TV.
“Within minutes of the announcement of the preliminary results, Monnin sent an iMessage to Randy Sanders, the Director of the Miss Pennsylvania USA Pageant, stating that ‘this is f-ing rigged Randy,'” according to the arbitration order. “She questioned how two other contestants could have made it through the preliminary competition and stated ‘I’m done. This is ridiculous’ and ‘It’s obviously rigged so the girl that they want can shine; they kept several beautiful girls out for that reason.’
“The televised Miss USA Pageant then proceeded with the sixteen semifinalists, fifteen of whom had received the most votes in the preliminary competition and one of whom had been audience-selected. There was a panel of eight celebrity judges, different from the judges who participated in the preliminary competition, who independently assigned scores to each contestant in a swimsuit and evening gown competition. The five highest-scoring semifinalists became finalists, who then participated in the interview segment of the competition.
Each of the judges then separately ranked the five semifinalists, with the contestant receiving the highest ranking being chosen as Miss USA. Miss Rhode Island was ultimately chosen as Miss USA.
“The next morning, on June 4, 2012, Monnin sent an email to the Miss Pennsylvania director, in which she officially resigned the title of Miss Pennsylvania 2012. In the email, Monnin cited her strong disagreement with the MUO decision to allow transgendered contestants to participate in the competition.
She stated: ‘I refuse to be part of a pageant system that has so far and so completely removed itself from its foundational principles as to allow and support natural born males to compete in it. This goes against every moral fiber of my being.’ On the night of June 4, 2012, Monnin publicly announced her resignation in a Facebook post. She stated: ‘In good conscience I can no longer be affiliated in any way with an organization I consider to be fraudulent, lacking in morals, inconsistent, and in many ways trashy.’
“In a June 5, 2012 Facebook post Monnin provided a new rationale for her resignation as Miss Pennsylvania. ‘I agree that it is my moral obligation to state what I witnessed and what I know to be true. … I witnessed another contestant who said she saw the list of the Top 5 before the show ever started proceed to call out in order who the Top 5 were before they were announced on stage. Apparently the morning of June 3rd she saw a folder lying open to a page that said ‘Final Show Telecast, June 3, 2012’ and she saw the places for Top 5 already filled in.
Thinking she was just seeing a rehearsal fake top 5 from a previous day she walked away, then realized that it had without a doubt been labeled as the Final Show Telecast, June 3rd. After the Top 16 were called and we were standing backstage she hesitantly said to me and another contestant that she knew who the Top 5 were.
I said ‘who do you think they will be?’ She said that she didn’t ‘think’ she ‘knew’ because she saw the list that morning. She relayed whose names were on the list. Then we agreed to wait and see if that was indeed the Top 5 called that night. After it was indeed the Top 5 I knew the show must be rigged; I decided at that moment to distance myself from an organization who did not allow fair play and whose morals did not match my own. That is all I know about this.
If this contestant would like to step forward as an eyewitness and as being the one who saw the sheet with the Top 5 already selected before the judges ever saw the Top 16, then perhaps action can be taken. As for me, I believe her words and will not encourage anyone to compete in a system that in my opinion and from what I witnessed is dishonest.” (Citations to exhibits omitted.)
The Miss Universe Organization claims Monnin ignored its offer to review the judging process with her, and repeated her accusations on NBC’s “Today” show.
“Monnin stated these facts in the face of Miss Florida’s contention that she had made an offhand joking remark to Monnin about seeing a list of finalists that was used in the rehearsal prior to the broadcast,” the order states.
“In fact, when questioned by MUO officials, Miss Florida expressed shock that Monnin was claiming that she had identified the five finalists before they were announced. She said that she saw the list used in the rehearsal, in which all of the contestants participated; that she never identified to Monnin the names on the list; and the names that she did see did not correspond to the names of the five announced finalists. Indeed, the actual winner of the Miss USA Pageant – Miss Rhode Island – was not on the list seen by Miss Florida.
“Nonetheless, during the ‘Today’ interview, Monnin stated that she knew Miss Florida had been truthful with her because ‘she had many years of psychological training’ and she could tell when someone is joking or being serious. She stated that ‘what Miss Florida said is true. There’s really no doubt in my mind. It’s just too, too much evidence pointing to this being fraudulent.’
Monnin also discussed the fact that she had considered dropping out of the Pageant because of MUO’s decision to allow transgender contestants to participate.” (Citation to exhibit omitted.)
The organization claims Monnin’s comments attracted public scrutiny and caused it to lose business, including participation revenue and a $5 million pageant site fee from a potential sponsor.
The arbitrator concluded that Monnin’s statements were false and malicious, because Monnin lacked evidence and had made no attempt to verify her allegations.
“Monnin claimed the pageant was rigged within minutes of being passed over as one of the sixteen semifinalists, and before she had any purported factual basis for her allegation of rigging,” Judge Katz wrote.
“In addition, Monnin had a dual motivation for her malicious statements: (1) she was a disgruntled contestant who failed to make it past the preliminary competition; and (2) she strongly disagreed with the pageant’s decision to allow transgender contestants to compete, and had considered dropping out of the pageant even before the Miss USA competition had begun.”
The arbitrator noted that Monnin and her counsel had failed to participate in the arbitration proceedings, though Monnin had signed an agreement with an arbitration provision.
Katz dismissed the organization’s breach of contract claim and declined to order Monnin to remove the defamatory statements from the Internet or to refrain from future statements about the pageant, but ordered Monnin to pay $5 million for economic loss caused by her defamation.