A Democratic congressional candidate sued her college after she lost a hotly contested university beauty pageant, according to court records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
Emilia Sykes, an Ohio state legislator now running for U.S. Congress, filed a lawsuit against Tuskegee University after the historically black institution mistakenly honored her as Miss Tuskegee University in 2006 and revoked her title. Tuskegee University awarded Sykes the victory because her top competitor was mistakenly docked points for a rules violation. The school yanked her crown away when officials realized they had erred in scoring the contest. In reality, Sykes had placed third in the popular vote but was ultimately given second place.
Sykes didn't handle the defeat with grace, according to legal filings. Sykes and her parents filed a lawsuit against school officials, arguing that she was owed at least $75,000 for the psychological stress caused by the embarrassment of losing her crown.
"Sykes has been subjected to extreme mental and physical anguish, is unable to respond to persons who believe she is Miss Tuskegee University, and has experienced public embarrassment and personal psychological distress," her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit, which was quickly dismissed by a federal judge.
The act of desperation by Sykes could impact her standing with voters, especially as she faces off against an actual beauty queen—the Republican nominee in the district is 2014's Miss Ohio pageant winner, Madison Gesiotto Gilbert. The lawsuit also offers more evidence to the criticism that Sykes inherited her political career from her parents, who have both been members of the Ohio state legislature and joined Sykes in the lawsuit. The two claimed that their daughter's pageant humiliation injured their political ambitions.
The question of who received the highest competition score was never disputed. Rather, Sykes claimed that the rightful winner, Calida Joy McCampbell, should have her crown revoked because she spoke over her allotted time during a speech, according to an article in the Tuskegee News from the time. University officials concluded upon review that McCampbell did not exceed her time limit.
That led Sykes and her parents to sue the school, arguing that Tuskegee University officials denied her "due process" when they revoked her title. Sykes and her family claimed the incident resulted in tens of thousands of dollars in damages stemming from the fact that her parents had altered "their busy schedules to be with their daughter" and "expended funds to increase her wardrobe."
The experience of losing the pageant crown, Sykes and her parents claimed in court filings, resulted in "mental and physical anguish." Some of that "anguish" was due to the fact, according to Sykes and her parents, that Sykes decided not to "remain on the cheerleading squad" following her loss of the beauty pageant crown.
Her parents also complained in the lawsuit that they had to cancel political fundraisers because of her Miss Tuskegee responsibilities, and that she had already received "gifts or congratulations from the Girls Scouts of America…and U.S. Senator Barak [sic] Obama." The filing points to myriad local news coverage of Sykes winning the pageant to argue that it was simply too late to take the honor away.
The court disagreed—the lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. district judge Myron Thompson, a Tuskegee native put on the federal court by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. The judge said Sykes and her family were asking the court "to award the title of Miss Tuskegee to [Sykes] despite the fact that she scored lower than another contestant."
It is unclear when Sykes left the university, but she ultimately graduated from Kent State University back in her home state of Ohio, according to her official biography, on which Tuskegee University is not mentioned.
Sykes did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Gesiotto Gilbert declined to comment.
The lawsuit is not the only time Sykes has relied on her parents for help. Her father, state senator Vernon Sykes (D., Ohio), co-chairs the Ohio Redistricting Commission, the state body in charge of creating the state’s congressional map. Vernon Sykes introduced two proposed congressional maps earlier that would have given his daughter an advantage in her race. Both those maps were struck down by Ohio courts.
Ohio's 13th district is currently occupied by Rep. Tim Ryan (D., Ohio), who vacated his seat to run for Senate. A May survey of voters in the district found Gesiotto Gilbert, who was an Ohio State University student when she won Miss Ohio in 2014, leading the race by nine points.