NEW YORK • The Miss America pageant suspended its chief executive officer after dozens of former beauty queens demanded he step down over leaked internal e-mails that contained misogynistic, fat-and slut-shaming language.
The decision was announced in the face of mounting pressure in the media as the US continues to grapple with a sexual harassment firestorm upending powerful men from politics and the entertainment industry.
"The Miss America Organisation Board of Directors today voted to suspend executive chairman and CEO Sam Haskell," the organisation said on Friday. "The board will be conducting an in-depth investigation into alleged inappropriate communications and the nature in which they were obtained."
HuffPost published leaked e-mails - spanning almost three years - on Thursday that included a vulgarity to refer to past winners, and former winners being routinely maligned.
In one e-mail, Mr Haskell expressed amusement when an employee used a vulgar reference to female genitalia to describe the former pageant winners.
But HuffPost reported that Mr Haskell had particular disdain for former Miss America Mallory Hagan, shaming her over her weight and sex life, and calling her "a piece of trash".
In one e-mail to a member of his staff, he wrote that Ms Hagan had slept with someone he knew, and he told the man's mother "he needs to have a blood test because we lost count of the number of men she slept with at 25".
In another, he called Ms Hagan "huge" and "gross", reported HuffPost. The news site initially quoted the Miss America Organisation as saying it was notified about the e-mails months ago and fired a telecast writer - the "most egregious author of inappropriate comments".
"The Board has full confidence in the Miss America Organisation leadership team," HuffPost had quoted the organisation as saying.
But yesterday, award-show producers Dick Clark Productions announced it had severed ties with Miss America after being informed of the e-mails several months ago.
"We were appalled by their unacceptable content and insisted, in the strongest possible terms, that the Miss America Organisation (MAO) board of directors conduct a comprehensive investigation and take appropriate action to address the situation," it said in a statement to Agence France-Presse.
"Shortly thereafter, we resigned our board positions and notified MAO that we were terminating our relationship with them," it added.
Dozens of former Miss Americas signed an open letter demanding resignations of the organisation's CEO, president and board chair.
"We stand firmly against harassment, bullying and shaming - especially of women - through the use of derogatory terms meant to belittle and demean," HuffPost quoted the letter as saying.
"As Miss Americas, we strongly reject the mischaracterisations of us both collectively and individually. We also reject the ongoing efforts to divide our sisterhood and the attempts to pit us against one another."
Signatories included Ms Gretchen Carlson, who settled a sexual harassment lawsuit last year against then Fox News boss Roger Ailes for a reported US$20 million (S$26.9 million), which precipitated his departure from the network.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES