Three of Lizzo’s former dancers have filed a lawsuit against the singer, accusing her of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment stemming from incidents that allegedly took place beginning in 2021 and through 2023. The accusations follow the plaintiffs’ participation in a reality TV show contest for the opportunity to join Lizzo as one of her dancers during performances and on tour.
All three of the plaintiffs — Crystal Williams, Arianna Davis, and Noelle Rodriguez — performed with Lizzo at festivals and appearances from September 2021 through April 2022 during “The Special Tour” and went on to perform into 2023 for a European run, rehearsals, and additional performances. Lizzo (real name Melissa Viviane Jefferson), her production company, and Shirlene Quigley are named as defendants in the suit.
In the lawsuit obtained by Rolling Stone, the dancers claim that Lizzo, who has emphasized body positivity throughout her career, brought up one of the dancer’s weight gain. The dancer claims she was then berated and fired after she recorded a meeting due to a health condition, per the suit.
The suit also accuses Quigley, the captain of Lizzo’s dance team, of trying to convert them to their religion, calling her alleged behavior “unceasing” while also chastising them for having premarital sex. Meanwhile, the suit states that Quigley “made comments deriding people who engaged in pre-marital sex, knowing that some members of the dance cast did not share her views. Ms. QUIGLEY also had a party trick in which she would simulate oral sex on a banana in front of the rest of the dance cast. These instances were always unprompted and made Plaintiffs uncomfortable.”
The lawsuit goes on to accuse Quigley of making other sexually inappropriate comments and behavior, including discussing masturbation and sharing sexual fantasies. The suit alleges Quigley openly discussed one of the dancer’s virginity during filming of the reality television show Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, and shared that information on social media and interviews without the dancer’s consent. Other accusations alleged in the suit are religious and racial harassment, false imprisonment, and interference with prospective economic advantage, among other claims; not all of the claims were against each defendant.
During a stop in Amsterdam in February 2023, two of the plaintiffs were allegedly invited to a night out in the Red Light District, where they, along with Lizzo, went to a strip club. There, the suit claims the group pressured Davis in attendance to touch one of the dancer’s breasts against her will.
The suit also alleges that when dancers banded together to request a retainer for their work, they were scolded by a person working for the management team for “unacceptable and disrespectful behavior” and that it was grounds for termination that left the dance cast, comprising “full-figured women of color,” to believe the comments were “charged with racial and fat-phobic animus.” At one point, the dancers were also asked to re-audition after being accused of drinking before performances and not “performing up to par.” Davis, who the suit says suffers from anxiety, was so worried about being fired that she remained for the “brutal” eight-hour rehearsal and ended up soiling herself. Despite the accident, the suit claims that she was required to finish the rehearsal.
Davis also claims that Lizzo brought up her weight gain and was fired later for recording a meeting because she had an eye condition that prevented her from being in attendance. Shortly after the recording, Lizzo held an emergency meeting where security employees were instructed to confiscate the dancers’ phones.
“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 claims. Davis confessed she had recorded the meeting, but claims she explained that she did not mean to cause Lizzo harm, and that the video had been deleted.
“Ms. Quigley and Lizzo then took turns berating Ms. Davis,” the suit alleges. “After castigating Ms. Davis, Lizzo fire Ms. Davis on the spot.”
Rodriguez told Lizzo she felt disrespected at the meeting and would resign, according to the suit. She resigned earlier this year.
Williams, however, was allegedly fired publicly in a hotel lobby and was told it was due to “budget cuts.” Williams’ dismissal, she claims, came after speaking up at a meeting and challenging Lizzo’s claims that the dancers had been drinking before performances.
Reps for Lizzo did not immediately return Rolling Stone’s request for comment.
“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,” the plaintiffs’ attorney, Ron Zambrano, said in a statement.
The suit seeks an unspecified amount of damages, unpaid wages, loss of earnings, deferred compensation, and other employment benefits, including general damages. It also seeks special damages, including medical expenses, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees, as well as benefits for violations of plaintiffs’ civil rights through the Fair Employment and Housing Act, along with any further relief the court grants.
From Rolling Stone US