Lizzo, widely considered an icon of inclusivity and body positivity, has been accused of creating a hostile work environment by fat shaming and sexually harassing three of her former dancers, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The 44-page suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court and sent to The Daily Beast by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, outlines damning allegations against Melissa Viviane Jefferson (aka Lizzo), her production company Big Grrrl Big Touring, and her dance team captain Shirlene Quigley.
Beyond a hostile work environment and sexual harassment, the suit also claims Lizzo and her team were responsible for assault, racial and religious harassment, disability discrimination, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and false imprisonment.
While not every claim was brought against each defendant, the suit says the defendants never stepped in to put an end to “inappropriate behavior”—whether it came from Lizzo, Quigley, or BGBT management.
“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.
Quigley and reps for Lizzo did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Two plaintiffs, Arianna Davis and Crystal Williams, began dancing for Lizzo after competing as contestants on her reality TV show, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, in 2021. The same year, the third plaintiff, Noelle Rodriguez, was hired following her performance in Lizzo’s “Rumors” music video.
Davis and Williams have since been fired, and Rodriguez resigned earlier this year, their suit says.
According to the complaint, Lizzo and her choreographer called Davis in for a meeting a few months ago, where they questioned why she seemed “less committed” and “less bubbly and vivacious.” The suit says the comments seemed to reference her weight gain, which Lizzo had allegedly pointed out after a performance at the South by Southwest festival.
“In professional dance, a dancer’s weight gain is often seen as that dancer getting lazy or worse off as a performer,” the suit reads. “LIZZO’s and [the choreographer’s] questions about Ms. DAVIS’s commitment to the tour were thinly veiled concerns about Ms. DAVIS’s weight gain.”
The sexual harassment claim stemmed from an outing Lizzo invited the dancers to attend following a show in Amsterdam in February 2023. While attendance was “not mandatory,” the suit claims Lizzo typically expected dancers to “endear themselves” to her and “favored” those who attended her after-party events.
The three dancers accepted Lizzo’s invitation without knowing it would be in Amsterdam’s red-light district, known for its sex clubs and nudity, the suit states. Although the plaintiffs “expressed misgivings,” they say they “reluctantly went along” for fear over their job security.
At a club called Bananenbar, the suit claims Lizzo urged the dancers to touch the nude performers, catch dildos launched from the performers’ vaginas, and eat bananas “protruding” from the performers’ vaginas.
Specifically, Lizzo allegedly pressured Davis into touching the breasts of a nude female performer, even leading a chant demanding she do so, according to the suit. Even as Davis “reiterated her discomfort,” the chants apparently continued—and Davis caved in.
The group laughed at her and Davis tried “to hide how uncomfortable this interaction made her,” the suit states. When Lizzo’s management and security team asked if Davis was okay, the suit says she replied “kind of” and “no.”
“LIZZO herself pressured Plaintiffs and all her employees to attend outings where nudity and sexuality were a focal point and disregarded any apprehension from Plaintiffs,” the suit reads. “This work environment would shock the conscience of anyone as it did for Plaintiffs.”
During the same outing, Lizzo also allegedly “badgered” one of her security guards to get up on stage. His pants were pulled down to expose his butt, the suit alleges, and Lizzo yelled “take it off!” as a club performer whipped him.
“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 suit says.
A month later, the suit claims, Lizzo again invited the dancers to a night out in Paris but failed to mention the location was a nude cabaret bar.
Although the suit describes the outing as “artful and nowhere near as uncomfortable,” it says the “plaintiffs were shocked that LIZZO would conceal the nature of the event from them, robbing them of the choice not to participate.”
Back in the U.S., the suit described an “excruciating re-audition” in April 2023 after Lizzo accused the dancers of “not performing up to par” and drinking on the job. If Lizzo did not like their performance, the suit claims, she vowed to fire the dancers.
The re-audition was “so brutal” and dancers were not allowed to take breaks, according to the suit. It apparently got so bad that Davis “lost control of her bladder” after not stepping away to the bathroom out of fear of losing her job, the suit says.
Lizzo allegedly reminded the dancers that “none of their jobs were safe” the next day and continued to claim the dancers drank prior to shows without basis “in any sort of reality,” the suit claims. When Williams rebutted Lizzo’s drinking allegation, the suits says Lizzo “mockingly” replied: “Well if you’re not, then good for y’all.”
Tensions between the dancers and Lizzo kept rising at subsequent meetings in April and May, the suit says. At one meeting, Lizzo overheard someone question Williams’ firing, the suit says, and allegedly demanded they reveal themselves while declaring “she had eyes and ears everywhere.”
The complaint also claims Lizzo told the dancers not to socialize with Williams before she left New Orleans, where the tour was performing.
During another meeting, the suit alleges, Lizzo “became furious, hurling expletives at the group and stated that she was going to go around the room, person-by-person” after finding out a dancer audio recorded her at an earlier meeting. Davis admitted to the recording, which the suit says she took to keep a copy of Lizzo’s performance notes.
Although Davis told Lizzo she deleted it, Lizzo allegedly said “there is nothing you can say to make me believe you.” Lizzo and Quigley then “took turns berating” Davis before the singer fired her “on the spot,” the suit states.
Rodriguez spoke up to express her outrage with Davis’ situation and said she would resign, which prompted Lizzo to “aggressively” approach her while “cracking her knuckles, balling her fists,” according to the suit. “You’re lucky. You’re so fucking lucky!” Lizzo is quoted in the suit as saying to Rodriguez.
“Ms. RODRIGUEZ feared that LIZZO intended to hit her and would have done so if one of the other dancers had not intervened,” the suit read. “As LIZZO left the room, she raised both her middle fingers and yelled, ‘Bye, bitch!’’
While Rodriguez was able to leave, the suit says Davis was “forced to stay behind” by a member of Lizzo’s security detail. Davis was allegedly told she would have to remain in the room unless she allowed them to search her phone for the recording, the suit claims.
Wanting “nothing more than to leave,” Davis handed over her phone, where no trace of the recording was found, the suit says. When she was finally released, Davis says she hurriedly packed up her things before escaping to the airport with Rodriguez.
Besides the allegations against Lizzo, other claims in the lawsuit accuse Quigley of pushing her religious beliefs onto the dancers. She allegedly “singled out” Rodriguez as a non-believer and took “particular interest” in Davis, who she believed was Christian.
The suit also says Quigley exhibited “sexually inappropriate behavior” in front of the dancers, simulating oral sex on a banana, preaching an opposition to pre-marital sex, and posting about Davis’ virginity on social media.
Despite the plaintiffs’ efforts to report Quigley, BGBT allegedly did nothing. Davis and Rodriguez say their other reports of inappropriate behavior from tour bus drivers also went unheard.
Additionally, the suit says the company’s accountant scoffed at the dancers’ request for a retainer of 50 percent of their weekly pay, which the employees asked for since Lizzo and BGBT allegedly barred them from taking other jobs.
The accountant offered 25 percent but scolded them for “unacceptable and disrespectful” behavior, according to the suit.
“Only the dance cast—comprised of full-figured women of color—were ever spoken to in this manner, giving Plaintiffs the impression that these comments were charged with racial and fat-phobic animus,” the complaint read.
The dancers’ suit seeks an unspecified amount to damages for emotional distress as well as unpaid wages, loss of earnings, and attorney fees. The plaintiffs also requested a jury trial.