Lizzo sued over sexual harassment and hostile work environment allegations

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LOS ANGELES — Three of Lizzo’s former dancers have accused the singer of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment in a lawsuit filed Tuesday. They also allege that she pressured one of them to touch a nude performer at an Amsterdam club and subjected the group to an “excruciating” audition after leveling false accusations that they were drinking on the job.

The dancers accused Lizzo — a performer known for embracing body positivity and celebrating her physique — of calling attention to one dancer’s weight gain and later berating, then firing, that dancer after she recorded a meeting because of a health condition.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and provided to NBC News by the plaintiffs’ law firm, also accuses the captain of Lizzo’s dance team of proselytizing to other performers and deriding those who had premarital sex while sharing lewd sexual fantasies, simulating oral sex and publicly discussing the virginity of one of the plaintiffs.

The suit does not say if Lizzo knew about the allegations linked to the dance captain, Shirlene Quigley, but the plaintiffs believed the singer was aware of their complaints about her, according to their lawyer, Ron Zambrano.

The suit names Lizzo, whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, her production company and Quigley as defendants. In addition to accusations of a hostile work environment and sexual harassment, the suit brings claims for religious and racial harassment, false imprisonment, interference with prospective economic advantage and other allegations. Not every claim was brought against each defendant.

“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 demoralizing,” Zambrano said in a statement.

The suit accuses Lizzo of calling attention to the dancer’s weight after an appearance at South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival. The singer and her choreographer later told the dancer, Arianna Davis, that she seemed “less committed” to her role — a comment the suit describes as a “thinly veiled” concern about Davis’ weight.

Representatives for Lizzo did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Quigley did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Efforts to reach Lizzo’s production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, Inc., were unsuccessful.

Lizzo addressed the suit’s allegations in a statement Thursday morning saying she’s “hurt” and called the claims “false,” “unbelievable” and “outrageous.”

Davis and another former dancer, Crystal Williams, began performing with Lizzo after competing on her Amazon reality show, “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” in 2021, according to the suit. The dancers were later fired. 

The third, Noelle Rodriguez, was hired the same year after performing in the video “Rumors,” the suit says. Rodriguez resigned earlier this year. 

Amsterdam club accusations

The trip to the Amsterdam strip club, Bananenbar, happened after a performance in the city earlier this year. The suit states that Lizzo’s afterparties were routine and nonmandatory — but alleges that those who attended were favored by the singer and had greater job security.

At the club, Lizzo allegedly “began inviting cast members to take turns touching the nude performers, catching dildos launched from the performers’ vaginas, and eating bananas protruding from the performers’ vaginas,” the suit says. “Lizzo then turned her attention to Ms. Davis and began pressuring Ms. Davis to touch the breasts of one of the nude women.”

Davis declined, according to the suit, and Lizzo allegedly led a chant goading her to do so. After Davis declined three more times, the chant “grew louder and more strident, demanding a visibly uncomfortable Ms. Davis to engage with the performer.”

When Davis eventually acquiesced and briefly touched the performer, the group burst into laughter, the suit says. Afterward, Lizzo allegedly pressed a member of her security staff to get on stage and began yelling, “take it off,” according to the suit.

“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 suit says.

A week later, after a show in Paris, Lizzo invited her dancers to a club so “they would be able to learn something or be inspired by the performance,” the suit says. “What Lizzo failed to mention when inviting the dancers to this performance was that it was a nude cabaret bar.”

The suit described the performance as “artful,” but the plaintiffs were “shocked that Lizzo would conceal the nature of the event from them, robbing them of the choice not to participate.”

Harassment claim

The racial harassment claim is linked to what the suit describes as comments “charged with racial and fat-phobic animus” that were made by touring company employees.

In one instance, the former dancers asked to be compensated for their downtime at a rate 50% of their weekly pay, according to the suit. An accountant allegedly responded to the request by offering 25% and scolding them for being “unacceptable and disrespectful.”

“Only the dance cast — comprised of full-figured women of color — were ever spoken to in this manner,” the suit states.

The religious harassment allegation is connected to Quigley, the dance captain who also worked as a judge on Lizzo’s reality show. According to the suit, she preached her Christian beliefs and “took every opportunity to proselytize to any and all in her presence regardless of protestations.”

After discovering that Davis was a virgin, Quigley discussed the subject in interviews and posted about it on social media, the suit says. And when cast members asked her to stop pressuring Rodriguez — whom Quigley regarded as a “non-believer,” according to the suit — about her faith, Quigley responded: “No job and no one will stop me from talking about the Lord.”

Dancers dismissed

Two dancers were fired in April and May. According to the suit, Williams lost her job April 26, days after she spoke up at a meeting in which she challenged an assertion from Lizzo that the dancers were drinking before performances. 

The day before, Lizzo had told the group that they would have to audition again, a move that prompted what the suit described as an “excruciating” 12-hour rehearsal. 

If Lizzo was dissatisfied with their performances, the suit alleges, the dancers would be fired and sent home.

During the rehearsal, Davis was so fearful she’d lose her job if she went to the bathroom, she soiled her pants. She was given a see-through outfit with no undergarments to finish the performance, the suit says.

When Lizzo raised the issue again the following day, Williams responded, saying the dancers didn’t drink, the suit says. The singer then allegedly offered what the suit describes as a mocking reply: “Well if you’re not, then good for y’all.”

Five days later, on April 26, Lizzo’s tour manager fired Williams in a hotel lobby, the suit says. The manager attributed the termination to budget cuts, said the suit, which noted that no one else was fired.

Rodriguez complained to the manager about the decision to publicly fire Williams — a move that Lizzo “repeatedly” raised with the dancers during an April 27 meeting during which she told the group that she had “eyes and ears everywhere,” according to the suit.

Davis recorded the April 27 meeting because she suffered from an eye condition that sometimes left her disoriented in stressful situations, the suit says. Days later, Lizzo held an emergency meeting and had security employees confiscate dancers’ phones, the suit states.

“Lizzo 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,” the suit says.

Davis acknowledged recording the meeting, saying said she wanted to have a copy of Lizzo’s performance notes, the suit says. When Davis said she hadn’t meant any harm — and that she’d deleted the video — Lizzo allegedly responded: “There is nothing you can say to make me believe you.”

“Ms. Quigley and Lizzo then took turns berating Ms. Davis,” the suit says. “After castigating Ms. Davis, Lizzo fire Ms. Davis on the spot.”

Before Lizzo left the meeting, Rodriguez told her that she felt disrespected and would resign, the suit says. Lizzo responded by “cracking her knuckles, balling her fists” and using an expletive to tell Rodriguez she was “lucky,” the suit states.

As Rodriguez left, the suit says, Lizzo raised both her middle fingers and yelled a slur.

The suit alleges false imprisonment against Lizzo’s production company because a member of her security detail allegedly forced Davis to remain in the room after the meeting ended so he could search her phone for the video.

The suit does not specify a dollar amount for damages that cover emotional distress including unpaid wages, loss of earnings and attorney’s fees.

In the meantime, Lizzo continues to inspire fans. In a recent clip circulating on social media, the singer can be seen telling a young woman attending a concert in Australia how beautiful and special she is — and how she “could be the greatest dancer in the world.”

Speaking to the fan, who said she had been bullied online, Lizzo said: “The words that we say have a long-lasting effect on people.”

 


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