Lizzo addresses dancers' lawsuit accusing her of sexual harassment and weight shaming

Lizzo is facing a slew of allegations, including sexual harassment, in a new lawsuit brought on by three of her former dancers.

Lizzo, who is facing a lawsuit, performing on stage in a silver dress and pink wig.
Image: Taylor Hill/WireImage

Content warning: Descriptions of sexual harassment and weight-shaming

Grammy Award-winning pop star Lizzo has issued a statement after a lawsuit was filed against her by three of her former backup dancers, accusing the singer of alleged sexual harassment and creating a “hostile work environment”. 

Former dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez filed the suit against Lizzo – whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson — on Tuesday, August 1, according to NBC News. Dance captain Shirlene Quigley and Lizzo’s production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc, were also named in the suit. 

Davis, Williams and Rodriguez have accused the pop icon, along with her production company and dance captain, of engaging in sexual, racial and religious harassment, although not every defendant was brought up on the same set of claims. According to the three plaintiffs, the alleged offences took place between 2021 and 2023.  

The suit filed against Lizzo primarily focuses on an incident that allegedly occurred in an Amsterdam club earlier this year. According to the plaintiffs, Lizzo “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.

“Lizzo then turned her attention to Ms. Davis and began pressuring Ms. Davis to touch the breasts of one of the nude women,” the suit claims.

Davis claimed to be “visibly uncomfortable” and repeatedly declined to partake in the singer’s alleged actions. Despite Davis’ protestations, Lizzo allegedly goaded the dancer with a chant that “grew louder and more strident”.  

The suit claims that when Lizzo finally stopped goading Davis, she allegedly touched the performer before the group started laughing at Davis. 

Court documents go on to claim that Lizzo similarly pressured a member of the club’s security staff to take his suit off on stage. 

“[The] 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 says.

The trio of plaintiffs went on to describe, in detail, their alleged experiences of harassment “charged with racial and fat-phobic animus” while working for Lizzo. 

They similarly claimed that, when they asked to be compensated for their downtime at 50% of their weekly pay, they were allegedly reprimanded by an accountant in Lizzo’s employ and offered 25% instead. 

“Only the dance cast, comprised of full-figured women of colour, were ever spoken to in this manner,” the plaintiffs allege.

Shirlene Quigley, the captain of Lizzo’s team of dancers, has also been wrapped up in the lawsuit, facing allegations of religious harassment. According to the suit, Quigley frequently imposed her Christian religious ideology on the plaintiffs and “took every opportunity to proselytise to any and all in her presence, regardless of protestations”. The suit alleges that Quigley “disparaged pre-marital sex, simulated oral sex, shared lewd sexual fantasies and discussed one performer’s virginity”. 

NBC News reports that the lawsuit does not confirm whether or not Lizzo was aware of Quigley’s alleged behaviour on tour. 

In addition to their claims of sexual, racial and religious harassment, Davis and Williams are similarly suing Lizzo and Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc. for unfair dismissal. According to the suit, Lizzo allegedly accused the two plaintiffs of drinking before a performance and subsequently subjected them to an “excruciating” 12-hour audition. 

Davis claims that she was so afraid of losing her job as a result of the incident that she soiled herself during the audition to avoid going to the toilet. Following the alleged audition, Davis and Williams were fired in April and May of this year. 

Williams claims to have been let go just days after she spoke up in a meeting challenging the allegations that she had been drinking before a performance. Williams was fired by Lizzo’s tour manager on April 26 in a hotel lobby, the lawsuit alleges, citing budget cuts as the reason for her dismissal. The lawsuit notes that no other dancers or crew were fired due to the supposed budget cuts. 

Following Williams’ dismissal, the lawsuit’s third plaintiff, Rodriguez, allegedly lodged a complaint with Lizzo’s management regarding the decision to fire Williams. According to Rodriguez, Lizzo “repeatedly” discussed Williams’ dismissal during a dancers’ meeting held on April 27, during which the singer allegedly told the dance crew that she had “eyes and ears everywhere”. 

Davis recorded the meeting, citing an eye condition that leaves her disoriented when stressed. After discovering the recording, “Ms. Quigley and Lizzo then took turns berating Ms. Davis,” the lawsuit reads. 

“After castigating Ms. Davis, Lizzo fired Ms. Davis on the spot.”  

Following what she believed to be the unfair dismissals of Davis and Williams, Rodriguez quit. As she left, Lizzo allegedly “raised both her middle fingers and yelled a slur.”

If the mounting allegations weren’t enough, Davis is similarly suing Lizzo’s production company for alleged false imprisonment. According to Davis, production refused to let her leave the dance team meeting on April 27 until they could search her phone.

Lizzo took to social media this morning, August 3, to respond to the lawsuit, telling fans: “These last few days have been gut wrenchingly difficult and overwhelmingly disappointing. My work ethic, moral and respectfulness have been questioned. 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.

“These sensationalized stories are coming from former employees who have already publicly admitted that they were told their behavior on tour was inappropriate and unprofessional.”

The singer continued: “As an artist I have always been very passionate about what I do. I take my music and my performances seriously because at the end of the day I only want to put out the best art that represents me and my fans. With passion comes hard work and high standards. Sometimes I have to make hard decisions, but its never my intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable or like they aren’t valued as an important member of the team.

“I am not here to be looked at as a victim, but I also know that I am not the villain that people and the media have portrayed me to be these last few days. I am very open with my sexuality and expressing myself but I cannot accept or allow people to use that openness to make me out to be something I am not.

“There is nothing I take more seriously than the respect we deserve as women in the world. I know what it feels like to be body shamed on a daily basis and would absolutely never criticize or terminate an employee because of their weight,” Lizzo added.

“I’m hurt but I will not let the good work I’ve done in the world be overshadowed by this. I want to thank everyone who has reached out in support to lift me up during this difficult time,” the singer’s statement concluded.

Quigley and Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc. have yet to release any sort of official statement regarding the allegations or the lawsuit. However, dance captain Quigley did take to Instagram in the days since the suit was announced to state: “All things work together for those that are called together according to his purpose.”

Two-thirds of the plaintiffs (Davis and Williams) joined Lizzo’s dance troupe back in 2021, after competing on Amazon Prime’s Watch Out for the Big Grrl, a dance competition program where the winners were invited to join the ‘Am I Ready (2 Be Loved)’ singer on tour. 

While no additional members of Lizzo’s dance or production crew have joined the suit alongside the three plaintiffs, the breaking news has encouraged other former employees of the performer to speak out regarding the allegations and their own experiences working with her. 

Courtney Hollinquest, a dancer formerly employed by Lizzo, took to Instagram to state that the plaintiffs’ allegations were “very much my experience in my time there…big shoutout to the dancers who had the courage to bring this to light”. 

Quinn Wilson, Lizzo’s former creative director, also took to Instagram to respond to the controversy, writing: “I haven’t been a part of that world for around three years, for a reason. I very much applaud the dancers’ courage to bring this to light. And I grieve parts of my own experience. I’d appreciate space to understand my feelings.”

Finally, filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison spoke out regarding her decision to “walk away” from directing a Lizzo documentary in 2019 after only two weeks, citing ill treatment at the hands of the singer. 

“I was treated with such disrespect by her,” she wrote in a statement. “I witnessed how arrogant, self-centred and unkind she is. I was not protected and was thrown into a s***ty situation with little support.

“My spirit said to run as fast as you f**king can and I’m so glad I trusted my gut. I felt gaslit and was deeply hurt.”

The news of the lawsuit has come as a shock to fans, as Lizzo is publicly known for her persistent body-positive messaging and progressive platform.​​

“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 Ron Zambrano, the lawyer representing the prosecution, in a statement. 

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