‘Toxic workplace’: Questions swirl around organization after Miss USA, Miss Teen USA resign

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

“This is supposed to be a women empowerment organization, but they took that power away,” a source said of the Miss USA organization management.

SARASOTA, Fla. — For the first time in history, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA have resigned within days of each other, prompting concerns from fans about what is going on within the organization.

Noelia Voigt, a Sarasota County native, made the “very tough decision” to step down from her title on Monday with just a few months left of her reign.  

In her statement posted to Instagram, Voigt made several mentions of mental health, prompting an outpouring of love and support from fans and former titleholders. However, commenters quickly noticed that the first letters of the first 11 sentences of her statement spell out, “I AM SILENCED.” 

This potential hidden message was only amplified when just two days later, Miss Teen USA UmaSofia Srivastava also resigned, citing that her “personal values no longer fully align with the direction of the organization.” 

With their two reigning queens making the unprecedented decision to hang up their crowns early, all eyes turned to the Miss USA organization, which the Miss Universe organization runs. 

‘It’s pure control’

A source close to both titleholders and former employees of the Miss Universe and Miss USA organizations shared that the problems stem from its new leadership.  

VVV Global Ent. founder Laylah Rose took over as president and CEO of the Miss USA brand in August 2023, just a month before the Miss USA and Miss Teen USA competitions. 

“She’s ruling by fear, she’s ruling by harassment, not only the contestants but her employees,” the source told 10 Tampa Bay in reference to Rose. 10 Tampa Bay granted anonymity to the source to allow the person to speak more freely about the situation.

The source said that Rose is responsible for the “toxic work environment” that the Miss USA organization has become, adding that Voigt would be reprimanded or ignored if she brought up concerns, even concerning mental health. 

These claims of “bullying” and a “toxic work environment” were also outlined in Voigt’s resignation letter obtained by CBS News. 

In the letter, Voigt said her relationship with the organization had become “unendurable,” adding that she was suffering from anxiety as a result. The former Miss USA also mentioned in the letter that she was made to feel unsafe at events, including one experience where she was sexually harassed at a Christmas parade. 

Management rarely booked appearances for Voigt, and when it did, failed to cover costs or provide handlers for security, according to the source. The source also claimed that management took over the titleholder’s social media accounts in an attempt to restrict what she could speak out on. 

“This is supposed to be a women empowerment organization, but they took that power away,” the source said. “It’s pure control.” 

The source explained that Voigt is bound by what she called “an incredibly egregious” contract that every state titleholder had to sign to compete at Miss USA. This became Voigt’s full-time Miss USA contract when she won the competition in September. 

The Miss USA organization did not respond to a request for comment when asked by 10 Tampa Bay.

Fellow queens call for change

Miss Florida USA Caroline Dixon referenced this contract in a statement posted to Instagram on Wednesday on behalf of most of the Miss USA class of 2023. It calls for the Miss USA organization to release Voigt from a clause in her contract so that she may speak freely about her experiences as Miss USA. 

“The majority of the members of the Miss USA class of 2023 supports Noelia Voigt’s decision to resign from the title of Miss USA. Prioritizing one’s mental health is of the utmost importance, and we stand behind her. 

“We are asking the Miss USA Organization to release Noelia from the confidentiality NDA clause of her contract, in perpetuity, so that she is free to speak on her experiences and time as Miss USA. We request a response within 24 hours. 

“Our goal is to give Noelia her voice back. We are asking for full transparency for contestants in the class of 2024 and beyond,” the statement reads.

Former employee says Miss USA, Miss Teen USA are ‘silenced’

This message echoes a statement made by the former social media director for Miss USA Claudia Michelle, who resigned three days before Voigt. 

Among the claims in her statement, Michelle said she worked without pay for the first two months, was not given the support or financing for a full social media team and was not given full access or guidance over the social media accounts as she was meant to. 

Michelle also expressed concern for Voigt’s and Srivastava’s well-being, explaining that she has seen a decline in their “mental health and happiness.” 

“I’ve first hand seen Noelia and Uma be unable to share about their personal advocacies on social media and be threatened by MUO ‘social media rules and guidelines’ that I still have yet to see,” she said in her statement. 

Michelle went on to reference how she feels Voigt and Srivastava are unable to share the truth of their experiences under the organization. 

“I feel the way the current management speaks about their titleholders is unprofessional and inappropriate; I disavow workplace toxicity and bullying of any kind,” her statement said. 

Michelle said about Voigt and Srivastava: “I believe their voices and their stories should be heard and not silenced.”

In response to Michelle, the Miss USA organization told USA Today, “We are troubled to hear the false accusations made by a former Miss USA employee. Miss USA is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive, and supportive environment, and we take these allegations seriously. Indeed, we have and will continue to prioritize the well-being of all individuals involved with Miss USA.”

Michelle and the previous source both confirmed that two assistant national directors with the Miss USA organization were fired in the week before Voigt’s and Srivastava’s resignations. 

In a post on Instagram, the Miss USA organization and Rose wrote, “We respect and support Noelia’s decision to step down from her duties. The well-being of our titleholders is a top priority, and we understand her need to prioritize herself at this time. We are currently reviewing plans for the transition of responsibilities to a successor, and we will soon announce the crowning of the new Miss USA.” 

On Thursday afternoon, the Miss USA organization announced that Miss Hawaii USA Savannah Gankiewicz would take over the title that Voigt formerly held.

In the post, Gankiewicz said she supports Voigt’s decision to step down, adding that it’s crucial for her and her “Miss USA sisters” to “stand united for the future of the organization.”

Gankiewicz’s mother, Yvienne Peterson, addressed some of the controversy surrounding the organization in a comment, claiming, “What they went through was nothing as detrimental as what media portrays it to be,” in reference to Voigt and Srivastava.

“Yes unfortunately, they may have had to ride Spirit airlines [sic], yes, they may have had their boss tell them that some of their posts were not of brand, yes, they may have not had a make up [sic] artist at an appearance for them, they may have been reprimanded for some of their outfit choices, yes, they may have not gotten their full prize package… but if that was the worst…then I’m [sic] sorry but maybe they have forgotten what their primary role was and that was to be a role model for women,” Peterson wrote.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.