Three of Lizzo’s former dancers filed a lawsuit against her on Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, accusing the Grammy-winning singer and the captain of her dance team of creating a hostile work environment while performing concerts on her Special Tour this year.
The lawsuit, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times by the plaintiffs’ law firm, said the dancers had been “exposed to an overtly sexual atmosphere that permeated their workplace,” which included “outings where nudity and sexuality were a focal point,” it said. The suit was first reported by NBC.
The defendants include Lizzo, using her full name Melissa Jefferson instead of her stage name; her production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc.; and Shirlene Quigley, the tour’s dance captain. It does not specify whether the singer was aware of the plaintiffs’ allegations linked to Ms. Quigley.
The suit alleges that Lizzo was involved in several episodes that lawyers for the three dancers said amounted to sexual harassment and weight shaming, among other allegations.
Ms. Quigley was also accused of making sexually explicit comments to the dancers, and the lawsuit accuses her of engaging in religious harassment. Ms. Quigley “made it her mission to preach” Christianity to the dancers, the lawsuit says, and appeared to be fixated on one plaintiff’s virginity.
On one occasion while at a nightclub in Amsterdam, the lawsuit says, Lizzo began inviting employees to touch nude performers and handle dildos and bananas used in their performances.
Out of fear of retaliation, a dancer eventually “acquiesced” to touching the breast of a nude female performer despite repeatedly expressing no interest in doing so, the suit says.
Representatives for Lizzo and her production company did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Two of the plaintiffs, Arianna Davis and Crystal Williams, began performing with Lizzo after competing on her reality television show on Amazon Prime, “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls,” in 2021. The show was an opportunity to give plus-size dancers representation, Lizzo said at the time. Ms. Davis and Ms. Williams were fired in the spring of 2023, the lawsuit says.
Separately, a third plaintiff, Noelle Rodriguez, was hired in May 2021 to perform in Lizzo’s “Rumors” music video and remained on as part of her dance team. According to the lawsuit, Ms. Rodriguez resigned shortly after Ms. Davis and Ms. Williams had been fired.
Some of the allegations seemed to take aim at Lizzo’s reputation for championing body positivity and inclusivity.
“The stunning nature of how Lizzo and her management team treated their performers seems to go against everything Lizzo stands for publicly,” a lawyer for the plaintiffs, Ron Zambrano, said in a statement on Tuesday. Privately, he said, Lizzo “weight-shames her dancers and demeans them in ways that are not only illegal but absolutely demoralizing.”
Some of Lizzo’s statements to the dancers gave Ms. Davis, who was diagnosed with a binge eating disorder, the impression that she had to “explain her weight gain and disclose intimate personal details about her life in order to keep her job,” the suit says.
Since her breakout hit “Truth Hurts” dominated charts in 2019, Lizzo has popularized “feel-good music” and self-love and has celebrated diversity in all forms by churning out empowerment anthems, introducing a size-inclusive shapewear line and racking up millions of views on social media.
She won this year’s Grammy for record of the year for “About Damn Time.”
Diana Reddy, an assistant professor at the School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, said that allegations that fall outside legally protected categories could undermine Lizzo’s body-positive message and “could certainly encourage a settlement.”
Proving a hostile work environment in the unconventional entertainment industry is difficult, she said, so the plaintiffs’ lawyers could be hoping for a settlement. “Employment discrimination plaintiffs don’t fare particularly well in court,” Ms. Reddy said.