More allegations against Lizzo surface in wake of lawsuit alleging harassment, weight-shaming
LOS ANGELES — Lawyers representing three of Lizzo’s former dancers said they’ve been reviewing new complaints since she was accused of sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and weight-shaming in a lawsuit filed last week.
Ron Zambrano said his firm, which focuses on employment law, is vetting new allegations from at least six people who said they toured with Lizzo, including other dancers and some who said they worked on her Amazon Studios reality show, “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls.”
The allegations, he said, are of a “sexually charged environment” and failure to pay employees.
Zambrano said that in reviewing the claims, he determined that some are potentially actionable but that others aren’t.
“Some of the claims we are reviewing may be actionable, but it is too soon to say,” he said Tuesday evening.
A representative for Lizzo declined to comment Tuesday.
The suit, first reported by NBC News and filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of Arianna Davis, Noelle Rodriguez and Crystal Williams, prompted an outpouring of disappointment among fans and a rebuke from Lizzo, who called the allegations “sensationalized stories” that were “false” and “unbelievable.”
The suit alleges conduct that another lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Neama Rahmani, described as “outrageous.” Lizzo, who’s known for promoting body positivity and celebrating her physique, allegedly pressured a dancer to touch a nude performer at a strip club, called attention to the dancer’s weight and fired her in front of other performers after she recorded a meeting in an effort to help manage a health condition, according to the suit.
It accuses Lizzo of calling out the dancer’s weight after an appearance at the South by Southwest music festival. In a meeting with all of the dancers this year, Lizzo allegedly said it was “normal” for them to get “fired when they get fat,” Zambrano said this week.
The weight allegation is part of a disability discrimination claim in the lawsuit. Davis says she has an eating disorder.
Williams and Davis were fired in April and May, respectively. Rodriguez resigned in May.
The suit also accuses Lizzo’s dance captain, Shirlene Quigley, of proselytizing to other performers and deriding those who had premarital sex while sharing lewd sexual fantasies, simulating oral sex and publicly discussing Davis’ virginity.
Quigley and her representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
It isn’t clear whether the allegations will hurt Lizzo, whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson. Luminate, which analyzes entertainment and music industry data, said in an email that there appeared to be little impact on her sales, streaming and airplay from last Tuesday to Friday.
The company said more data, which is released weekly, will be available Friday.
Lizzo released her fourth album last year, and her single “Pink,” which appears in “Barbie” and is on the movie’s soundtrack, was released last month.
Fabletics, which launched the shapewear brand YITTY with Lizzo last year, which aims to champion “body normality” and “self-love,” didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Amazon Studios announced this year that “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” was auditioning for season 2. The company didn’t respond to a request for comment.
A Philadelphia music festival that Lizzo was scheduled to headline in September was canceled Tuesday; in a statement, organizers didn’t say why.
Representatives for the festival, Live Nation, Lizzo and SZA, who was also scheduled to headline the event, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Before the lawsuit was filed, ticket sales for the festival were “not good,” a source close to the production said.
Davis and Williams began performing with Lizzo after they competed for the show’s first season two years ago. It was their first experience working in the industry, Zambrano said.
Rodriguez was hired the same year after she performed in the video “Rumors.” She had previously worked for Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and Lady Gaga, Zambrano said.
Rodriguez hadn’t previously experienced anything like what she encountered working for Lizzo, Zambrano said. Even being taken out to a club — as Davis said the dancers were when Lizzo allegedly goaded her into touching a nude performer — was unusual, Zambrano recalled Rodriguez as saying.
“Typically what happens is after the show, people stick around at the venue and have a party at the venue,” he said. “And that’s it. It’s very rare to be invited to dinners or a club afterwards.”
After they resigned or were fired, all three women “went to their separate homes to be with their families to basically recover from the experience,” he said.
“It was really traumatic for them,” he said, noting that they were fired in front of management and security staffers. “They felt very unsafe, very vulnerable.”
The women were unable to publicly discuss the circumstances of their firings because they signed nondisclosure agreements, Zambrano said. When they first approached his firm, Zambrano said, they came with their mothers, because they felt “unsafe” talking about what had happened.
Filing the lawsuit, he added, allowed them to get “their story out.”
Lizzo rejects allegations
Two days after the suit was filed, Lizzo responded in a statement calling the allegations “gut wrenchingly difficult and overwhelmingly disappointing.”
“My work ethic, morals and respectfulness have been questioned,” she said. “My character has been criticized.”
“Usually I choose not to respond to false allegations but these are as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous to not be addressed,” she said, adding that the dancers “have already publicly admitted that they were told their behavior on tour was inappropriate and unprofessional.”
A lawyer for Lizzo, Marty Singer, who has called the lawsuit “specious,” pointed to a video interview for season 2 of Lizzo’s reality show, in which Davis said she looked up to Lizzo and wanted to “follow in her footsteps.”
The interview is from April, and Davis said the video was recorded before the “bulk of our allegations.” She said it showed how much she was trying to please Lizzo.
“Right up until the last minute, I didn’t realize how bad it was and how much I was being taken advantage of,” she said. “I just genuinely wanted to save my job.”
In an interview broadcast Monday by Sky News, Williams pushed back against Lizzo’s comments, saying Lizzo was “confirming the pattern of every time somebody speaks up or advocates for themselves, like we’re doing now, we get victim-blamed, we get gaslighted, and she likes to point the finger instead of addressing the issues that are brought up.”
“Just to deny and victim-blame and not even take accountability … it’s just so insensitive and kind of invalidates our experience as a whole,” Rodriguez added.
The suit doesn’t specify a dollar amount for damages that cover emotional distress, including unpaid wages, loss of earnings and attorney’s fees.
Rahmani said his preference is to try the plaintiffs’ case in court, but he said he’s obligated to present them with any potential settlement offer.
So far, he said, he hasn’t discussed the matter with the dancers because of the tone of the comments from Lizzo and her lawyer.
“But things can change pretty quickly,” he said.
A case management conference is scheduled for Jan. 26.