LOS ANGELES — A Hispanic woman who won the Miss California USA contest only to have her crown yanked days later sued the pageant Thursday for half a million dollars, alleging rigging and racial bias.
The pageant director rejected the claims, saying winners during his tenure have been some of the pageant’s most racially diverse ever.
Christina Silva, 24, was crowned Miss California USA on Nov. 25. Three days later, the pageant’s executive director, Keith Lewis, told her “there has been a mistake and you are not the winner,” according to the lawsuit filed in Superior Court.
Raquel Beezley, 21, was subsequently crowned.
More from TODAY.com
See TODAY’s ' 'Saturday Night Live' Halloween costumes
Live from Rockefeller Plaza, it's Saturday Night Live! Willie Geist and Tamron Hall kicked off TODAY's Halloween Boo-Nanza...
- Cheetos, Clooneys, Slash and more: Celebs get creative for Halloween
- Mom Jeans! Watch TODAY ladies re-create classic 'SNL' skit
- After breast cancer, holding on to hope of being a mother
- J.K. Rowling writes new Harry Potter tale for Halloween
- See TODAY’s ' 'Saturday Night Live' Halloween costumes
Silva is of Ecuadorean and Mexican descent. The lawsuit claims Lewis was “uncomfortable with the fact that Miss Silva spoke Spanish with certain vendors; he felt that it may detract from the caliber of the pageant and some of the ‘all American girls’ may not opt to compete in the following year.”
Silva alleges that Lewis, the pageant, its producer K2 Productions and the Miss Universe Organization engaged in fraud, negligence, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other charges.
Lewis told The Associated Press the allegations of racial bias were unfounded.
“I’ve had three winners since I’ve been a director,” Lewis said. “Two have been African American, two of four in the history of the state pageant. And the current Miss California USA is 25 percent Filipino,” Lewis said, referring to Beezley. “I think my record speaks for itself.”
Miss Universe spokeswoman Lark-Marie Anton declined comment.
The lawsuit seeks $500,000 in damages for public humiliation and lost prizes.
© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.