Three of Lizzo’s former dancers are suing the singer over allegations including sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.
The 35-year-old, real name Melissa Jefferson, and her touring company Big Grrrl Big Touring (BGBT) face a string of claims from dancers Crystal Williams, Arianna Davis and Noelle Rodriguez, dating between 2021 and 2023, in the legal action.
Davis and Williams were introduced to Lizzo in March 2021 when they were contestants on the star’s Amazon Prime reality television show Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, with Rodriguez joining the team after being brought in to perform on Lizzo’s Rumors music video that May.
The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that Lizzo “pressured plaintiffs and all her employees to attend outings where nudity and sexuality were a focal point” and “disregarded” any apprehension from them. It goes on to bring up an alleged incident at bar in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where she is said to have “hounded her employees to engage with nude performers”.
The defendants are yet to respond to the lawsuit, which also includes allegations of religious and racial harassment, disability discrimination, assault and false imprisonment, as well as claims that Lizzo and choreographer Tanisha Scott expressed “thinly veiled concerns about Ms Davis’ weight gain”, which “Lizzo had previously called attention to”.
“Although Lizzo and Ms Scott never explicitly stated it, these questions accompanied by Lizzo’s statements made after the South by Southwest music festival gave Ms Davis the impression that she needed to explain her weight gain and disclose intimate personal details about her life in order to keep her job,” it says.
Around the time of the last European show of Lizzo’s The Special Tour in March this year, BGBT accountant Ashley Joshi is accused of sending an email to the dancers, scolding them for “unacceptable and disrespectful behaviour while on tour”.
“The stunning nature of how Lizzo and her management team treated their performers seems to go against everything Lizzo stands for publicly”
“Nowhere in the email did Ms Joshi explain what she or BGBT deemed unacceptable and disrespectful,” it adds. “Only the dance cast – comprised of full-figured women of colour – were ever spoken to in this manner, giving plaintiffs the impression that these comments were charged with racial and fat-phobic animus. This email marked the beginning of a strained relationship between the dancers and management.”
Shirlene Quigley, captain of Lizzo’s dance team, is named as a co-defendant, having allegedly “continued to preach at everyone in her surroundings, especially about her beliefs regarding Christianity and sexuality”.
BGBT management are also alleged to have “treated the black members of the dance team differently than other members”. “BGBT’s management team consisted almost entirely of white Europeans who often accused the black members of the dance team of being lazy, unprofessional, and having bad attitudes,” says the lawsuit, which asks for a trial by jury.
Williams was eventually fired “under the guise of budget cuts”, while Davis was dismissed after being found to have made an audio recording of performance notes. After being terminated, Davis alleges she was confined to a room against her will and was only allowed to leave once the contents of her phone had been searched by security.
Rodriguez subsequently resigned, saying she “did not appreciate” how Lizzo had handled the situation with Davis.
In a statement, the plaintiffs’ attorney Ron Zambrano says: “The stunning nature of how Lizzo and her management team treated their performers seems to go against everything Lizzo stands for publicly, while privately she weight-shames her dancers and demeans them in ways that are not only illegal but absolutely demoralising,”
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