Fired Miss Colorado gets crown back; pageant directors deny racism charges

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — An arbitrator on Tuesday reinstated Regina Flores as Miss Colorado, giving her back the crown she lost in a bitter dispute with pageant officials and awarding her $78,000 in damages.
The pageant “intentionally inflicted emotional harm and distress” on Miss Flores, said the arbitrator, retired Denver Judge Harold Reed.
Miss Flores, 22, was also awarded $75,000 for attorneys’ fees.
She was fired Dec. 30 after pageant officials said she violated her contract when she got a part-time job at a department store without approval, got her mother to book her appearances and missed one appearance.
The bilingual college student, who is the first Hispanic Miss Colorado, said she was fired without cause. She sued to get her title back and the rights to the $11,000 in scholarship money she won.
Reed, after a three-day hearing, sided firmly with Miss Flores, dismissing one of the pageant’s causes for termination — that she failed to agree to fly to Russia for an appearance — as “absolutely ludicrous.”
Reed ruled no such trip was planned.
“The testimony clearly showed that as a result of the defendant’s actions, (Miss Flores) did incur physical and mental distress as evidenced by her crying, loss of weight, appetite and sleep.”
The conflict, which included allegations of racism, trickled into other events. At least four directors of various city pageants resigned and several city-level pageants were canceled.
Organizers of one event canceled the appearance of runner-up Gina Waegle, who replaced Miss Flores as queen.
Pageant director Vonnie Pederson, who is also Hispanic, denied any racism. The pageant’s attorney was not available for comment Tuesday, his law firm said.
The ruling ordered the pageant to allow Miss Flores to finish serving her tenure, which will be until June. She is finishing up her senior year at the University of Colorado, where she is studying music education.
“I think it was well worth the struggle,” Miss Flores said.