Lis & the Single Girl: Pay Up, Scholarship Pageants!

Single and fabulous? Well then this is the column for you!

Ever wish you had your own personal Carrie Bradshaw to answer your questions — not just about what to do if your boyfriend dumps you via text message — but serious issues that confront us?

This special edition of “Lis on Law” will address topics that single women are faced with and that everybody wonders about — but no one has time to figure out.

C ongratulations to Ashley Wood for winning the title of Miss South Carolina in 2004! But WARNING! She got the tiara but she may never get the money the pageant promised! What went wrong?

Expecting a scholarship awarded with her title, Wood had no idea she was going to have to fight, for more than two years, those funds promised to her. Ideally, when competitions broadcasted on television promise the winner extravagant prize, we would like to believe that the winners do in fact take home their just reward.

Since her win in 2004, Miss South Carolina has been trying to collect her prize of a $20, 000 state scholarship and $5,000 national pageant scholarship. Are pageant organizations at the local and state levels wrongly withholding scholarships from winners?

As Ms. Wood said of the Miss America Organization, “You are talking about an organization that is promoting itself as the largest scholarship provider for women in the world. However, when contestants try to collect these scholarships, they encounter one obstacle after another. It’s like a game of gotcha. What is very clear to me is that the goal is to not give out the scholarships if at all possible.”

Luckily, for Wood, contract law will protect her. If a party has fully performed a contract agreement in good faith, the court will hold the other party accountable if bad faith conducts such as fraud is found in breach of contract. In other words, every contract imposes a duty of good faith and fair dealing upon each party in its performance and its enforcement. An important aspect of this duty of good faith is that a party is required to behave in a way that is consistent with the other party’s reasonable expectations about how the contract will work.

In a pageant winner’s mind, the transaction should be fairly straightforward: if I win the contest, then I get my scholarship award. What’s so complicated in that? By making the contestants go through hurdles after hurdles to collect their money is interference or a type of bad faith conduct recognized by courts. Even worse, if one party (Miss America Organization) is aware that performance (distributing payment of scholarship) will be impossible at the time of or during contract, but does not inform the other (pageant winners), the party withholding such knowledge is likely to be held to have committed fraud.

Let’s keep in mind that this is not the first time pageants winners have taken legal actions against the Miss America Organization. Many contestants face the same difficulties in collecting scholarship awards. In addition, the South Carolina secretary of state investigated the Miss South Carolina competition last year and fined it $2,000 in March for not having its financial papers in order. So, to all the organizations promising your gorgeous and graceful winners a prize, you gotta pay up!


Winners Cite Broken Promises in Pageants


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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.