Three of Lizzo’s former backup dancers have filed a lawsuit against the “Juice” singer, her production company and dance captain Shirlene Quigley, alleging sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. In the suit, Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez describe various incidents in which Lizzo, who is known for promoting body positivity, allegedly weight-shamed and mistreated her employees, as first reported by NBC News.
Lizzo addressed the accusations by her former dancers, calling their allegations “false” and “outrageous” in an Aug. 3 statement posted on her social accounts. In response, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ron Zambrano, pushed back, accusing her of “flagrantly violating the law.”
Most recently, the lawyer representing the three dancers told NBC News on Aug. 8 that they have been reviewing new complaints and allegations from at least six people who say they have worked with Lizzo.
The news came the same day that the Made in America music festival, which had Lizzo and SZA among the headliners, was canceled.
Respective representatives for Quigley and the production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, have not responded to NBC News’ requests for comment.
As this story continues to evolve, here’s what to know about the lawsuit involving Lizzo and her former dancers.
Who is suing Lizzo?
Lizzo, 35, whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, is being sued by three of her former backup dancers: Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez.
Davis and Williams both began working with Lizzo after appearing on her Amazon reality show, “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” in 2021 and were fired earlier this year, according to the lawsuit.
Rodriguez also began working with Lizzo in 2021 after appearing in the music video for her song “Rumors” and resigned in 2023, according to the suit.
What is Lizzo accused of?
The three former dancers have leveled several allegations against Lizzo. Here are the key ones outlined in the lawsuit:
Davis alleges that Lizzo and a choreographer raised questions about her commitment to her job on tour that were “thinly veiled” concerns about her weight gain, according to the suit.
Davis said in an interview with TODAY on Aug. 2 that while she never experienced “blatant fatphobia,” she believes she was being called out subtly for her weight.
“It was very nuanced and very underlying underneath all the other issues that were going on,” Davis said. “I just had this feeling that they had a problem with the way I was gaining weight and looking different and that I wasn’t ‘the same’ as when they first cast me.”
Alleged sexual harassment
In the lawsuit, Davis described an alleged incident with Lizzo earlier this year at an Amsterdam strip club, Bananenbar. Davis alleges that Lizzo pressured her to touch the breasts of a nude woman on stage.
Davis said no, but she says Lizzo led a group chant to pressure her to do it, “demanding a visibly uncomfortable Ms. Davis to engage with the performer,” according to the suit.
Eventually, after being pressured, Davis “briefly touched” the performer’s breast, the lawsuit says.
“I was very, very mortified, everyone burst into laughter,” Davis told TODAY in her Aug. 2 interview.
Davis says that after this incident, Lizzo allegedly began pressuring a member of her security staff to get on stage and “take it off,” according to the lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs were aghast with how little regard Lizzo showed for the bodily autonomy of her employees and those around her, especially in the presence of many people whom she employed,” the lawsuit says.
Allegedly creating a hostile work environment
The lawsuit alleges that on April 20, 2023, Lizzo falsely accused her dancers of drinking before performances, demanded they re-audition for their spots, and said if she didn’t approve of a dancer’s performance, that person would be fired. This results in an “excruciating” 12-hour rehearsal, according to the lawsuit.
Davis said in the suit she was so scared she would be fired if she left the rehearsal to use the bathroom that she soiled herself. Williams says she confronted Lizzo in a meeting, saying it wasn’t true that the dancers were drinking before shows.
“Well if you’re not, then good for y’all,” Lizzo allegedly replied.
On April 26, Lizzo’s tour manager fired Williams, citing budget cuts, the suit says.
The suit also describes an alleged meeting with dancers on April 27 in which Lizzo “repeatedly” referenced Williams’ termination, allegedly telling her team that she had “eyes and ears everywhere.” Davis recorded this meeting because she suffers from an eye condition that can make her “disoriented in stressful situations,” according to the suit.
Days later, Lizzo allegedly held an emergency meeting when she discovered that the previous April 27 meeting had been recorded, the suit says. She “became furious, hurling expletives at the group and stated that she was going to go around the room, person-by-person until someone told Lizzo who made the recording,” according to the lawsuit.
The suit says Davis confirmed that she had recorded the meeting, allegedly told Lizzo she hadn’t meant any harm and had deleted the video. Lizzo allegedly responded, “There is nothing you can say to make me believe you.”
Davis was fired that day, and the third dancer involved in the lawsuit, Noelle Rodriguez, resigned, according to the lawsuit.
Lizzo allegedly responded to Rodriguez’s resignation by “cracking her knuckles, balling her fists” and shouting at the dancer, the suit says.
How has Lizzo responded to the allegations?
Lizzo denied the accusations raised in the lawsuit in a statement posted on her social accounts Aug. 3.
“My work ethic, morals and respectfulness have been questioned. My character has been criticized,” she wrote. “Usually I choose not to respond to false allegations but these are as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous to not be addressed.”
“These sensationalized stories are coming from former employees who have already publicly admitted that they were told their behavior on tour was inappropriate and unprofessional.”
She also said in her statement that she “would absolutely never criticize or terminate an employee because of their weight.”
Lizzo’s attorney, Marty Singer, said in a statement to NBC News that the lawsuit is “specious and without merit.”
He cited a video from April 2023, recorded for Season Two of Lizzo’s reality show, “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” in which Davis spoke positively of Lizzo, calling her a “queen” and saying she looked up to her.
“These do not sound like the words of someone who was harassed or discriminated against by someone they then described as ‘THE QUEEN,’” Singer said in his statement. “We are confident that Lizzo will be completely vindicated in this matter.”
In response to Singer’s comments about the video, Davis said in a statement that she wanted to saved her job. “This video was done before the bulk of our allegations occurred, and this was just me grasping at straws and my last attempt to make her see how committed I was to being loyal to her and her camp,” she told NBC News.
Meanwhile, Zambrano, the attorney representing all three dancers, issued his own statement in response to Lizzo’s Aug. 3 Instagram post, saying Lizzo had “failed her own brand and has let down her fans.”
“The dismissive comments and utter lack of empathy are quite telling about her character and only serve to minimize the trauma she has caused the plaintiffs and other employees who have now come forward sharing their own negative experiences,” he said. “While Lizzo notes it was never her intention ‘to make anyone feel uncomfortable,’ that is exactly what she did to the point of demoralizing her dancers and flagrantly violating the law.”
What is dance captain Shirlene Quigley accused of?
In addition to Lizzo, dance captain Shirlene Quigley and Lizzo’s production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, are also named as defendants in the lawsuit. Not every claim in the lawsuit is being brought against every defendant, and some claims are made by individual plaintiffs.
The lawsuit’s accusations of religious discrimination are being brought against the production company and Quigley, who served as a judge on “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.”
According to the suit, Quigley “was not only vocal about her religious belief but took every opportunity to proselytize to any and all in her presence regardless of protestations.” The suit also alleges that when Quigley discovered Davis was a virgin, it became “a topic of extreme importance to Quigley.”
According to the lawsuit, Davis never gave Quigley “permission to share this private detail” about her life.
Quigley also allegedly simulated sexual acts and shared graphic details of her sexual fantasies with the other dancers, making the plaintiffs “uncomfortable,” according to the lawsuit.
What is the production company accused of?
The lawsuit includes allegations of false imprisonment against Big Grrrl Big Touring for allegedly forcing Davis to stay in a room after she was fired so her phone could be searched for the recording of the April 27 meeting.
The lawsuit also alleges that performers of color on the dance crew experienced racial discrimination.
Members of the management team allegedly described Williams, Davis and other Black team members as “lazy, unprofessional, ‘snarky,’ and generally having bad attitudes,” according to the lawsuit, which said that none of these same allegations were leveled against dancers who are not Black.
The lawsuit’s racial harassment complaint is being brought by Davis and Williams against Big Grrrl Big Touring, but not against Lizzo herself.
Lawyers for the three dancers are reviewing more complaints
Zambrano told NBC News on Aug. 8 that his firm is looking into new allegations from at least six people who said they toured with Lizzo or worked with her on “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.”
Per Zambrano, the allegations are of a “sexually charged environment” and failure to pay employees. However, he said that after reviewing the complaints some are potentially actionable but others are not.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com
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