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Three of Lizzo’s former backup dancers have accused the pop icon of sexual harassment and of allegedly fostering a hostile work environment, according to a lawsuit filed on Tuesday.
The suit, which was filed in Los Angeles and first reported by NBC News, pertain to a string of instances of alleged sexual, religious and racial harassment that occurred between 2021 and 2023. It also refers to an occasion when Lizzo – who is known for her body-positive attitude and self-love advocacy – allegedly weight-shamed a dancer.
Pop star Lizzo has been accused of sexual harassment and fostering a hostile work environment.Credit: Charles Sykes
In a detailed description of one of the claims, the suit accuses the 35-year-old Rumors singer of “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”, while at a club in Amsterdam earlier this year. A member of her security staff was also allegedly pressured to get on the club’s stage, after which Lizzo yelled “take it off”.
“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 lawsuit states.
The accusations are levelled against Lizzo (whose birth name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson), her dance captain, Shirlene Quigley, and her production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, Inc. The plaintiffs include dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez.
Quigley is accused of pushing her religious beliefs upon other performers and judging those who had premarital sex. She is also accused of simulating oral sex and sharing unsolicited details about her own sex life.
Though it remains unclear whether Lizzo was aware of her dance captain’s behaviour, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Ron Zambrano, said the three dancers allege she did know about previous complaints made against Quigley.
Claims also include sexual harassment, creation of a hostile work environment, interference with prospective economic advantage and false imprisonment. Not every claim pertains to each defendant, however.
Lizzo’s representatives have been contacted 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 demoralising,” said Zambrano in a statement.
Two of the plaintiffs, Davis and Williams, began performing with Lizzo after they took part in Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, a dance competition the pop star hosted that premiered on Amazon Prime in 2022. The third, Rodriguez, was hired after performing in the Rumors video, but she resigned earlier this year.
Lizzo performing with her backup dancers in California in 2022.Credit: Timothy Norris/Getty Images
Williams claims to have had a heated conversation with Lizzo in April after the singer accused the cast members of drinking during performances. This allegedly followed an “excruciating” 12-hour rehearsal, during which Davis soiled herself for fear of losing her job if she excused herself to the bathroom.
Williams was fired five days later due to budget cuts, according to Lizzo’s team.
Davis alleges Lizzo told her she seemed less committed – something the suit described as a “thinly veiled” criticism of her weight – during an appearance at the South by Southwest music festival in April. She claims she was immediately fired the following month after Lizzo discovered she had recorded a meeting to use as performance notes. Davis said this was necessary due to an eye condition that “sometimes left her disoriented in stressful situations”, according to the suit.
The suit alleges that a member of Lizzo’s security staff forced Davis to remain in the room following this incident so that they could search her phone for the video – something the suit claims was false imprisonment at the hands of Lizzo’s production company.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez said she felt pressured by Quigley’s intense discussions about religion. According to the lawsuit, she “took every opportunity to proselytise to any and all in her presence regardless of protestations.”
When Rodriguez raised concerns regarding the termination of Williams and Davis, she claims Lizzo responded by “cracking her knuckles, balling her fists” and using an expletive to tell Rodriguez she was “lucky”.
According to the suit, Rodriguez was allegedly told by a member of the team that “we’ve never had any problems with you,” seeming to imply that as “one of the few members of the dance cast who is not black, [Rodriguez] was not painted with the same generalised and unfounded criticisms as the black members of the dance cast”.
The suit does not specify a dollar amount for damages covering emotional distress, loss of earnings or representation fees.
Following news of the lawsuit, Lizzo’s former creative director, Quinn Wilson, voiced their support for the plaintiffs.
“I haven’t been apart [sic] of that world for around three years, for a reason. I very much applaud the dancers’ courage to bring this to light,” Wilson wrote in an Instagram story. “And I grieve parts of my own experience. I’d appreciate space to understand my feelings.”
Another dancer that used to work with Lizzo, Courtney Hollinquest, also took to social media to reinforce some of the lawsuit’s accusations. “This was very much my experience in my time there. Big shoutout to the dancers who had the courage to bring this to light,” she wrote on an Instagram story.
Lizzo is currently touring the world for her The Special Tour. She hit Australian stages in July, earning a five-star review from this masthead. Her performance at Rod Laver Arena was described as “pure, wild, kinetic joy” and she as the personification of “body positivity, LGBTQI+ allyship, and radical self-love”.
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