Three professional dancers are demanding a jury trial in their lawsuit against Lizzo — a four-time Grammy-winning artist known for celebrating body positivity — for allegedly creating a hostile work environment. The allegations include sexual, racial and religious harassment and false imprisonment.
The suit brought against 35-year-old Melissa Viviane Jefferson, professionally known as Lizzo, was filed at the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesday. It paints a picture of an allegedly hostile work environment, in stark contrast to how she portrays herself to the public.
The lawsuit, obtained through the plaintiff’s attorneys at West Coast Employment Lawyers (WCEL), includes a slew of accusations against the artist, her production company Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc., as well as the captain of her dance team, Shirlene Quigley.
Lizzo’s former dancers, Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez filed a total of nine charges against the Grammy winning artist and her team spanning from May 2021 to May 2023. During that time the dancers were “weight-shamed, forced to endure sexually denigrating behavior and preaching about sexuality and Christianity, and were pressured into participating in disturbing sex shows,” according to a WCEL statement.
“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,” WCEL attorney Ron Zambrano said in a statement.
Lizzo was dubbed the “undisputed queen of TikTok” by Billboard magazine last December after raking in the most video views on the social media platform in 2022. She’s long been a backer of body positivity and self-love, encouraging listeners and fans to be comfortable in their own skin.
NPR attempted to reach Lizzo’s representatives for comment but a response was not received before publication.
The 44-page complaint alleges the performer doesn’t always practice what she preaches.
The lawsuit alleges Lizzo, her production company and Quigley created an “intolerable” hostile work environment which includes, but is not limited to, “Defendants’ repeated exposure of Plaintiffs to nudity against their will, and pervasive habit of sharing lewd fantasies and tales of sexual encounters.”
The documents detail one occasion where Lizzo allegedly pressured Davis, Rodriguez and Williams — and the rest of her employees — to engage with nude performers in Amsterdam’s red-light district, in which Davis repeatedly said she didn’t want to and was “hounded” by Lizzo as a result.
One of the complaints alleges that Lizzo aggressively confronted Rodriguez, who was resigning because of how the pop star had treated Davis. The complaint alleges Lizzo stormed toward the dancer balling her hands into fists and cracking her knuckles while shouting profanities. Lizzo was restrained, according to the court documents, but Rodriguez feared Lizzo was going to attack her.
Another charge accuses Lizzo of falsely imprisoning Davis in a room, keeping her there against her will until she allowed tour staff to search her phone and iCloud storage.
Two of the plaintiffs, Davis and Williams, first met Lizzo in March 2021, while competing as contestants on the reality TV show, Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, for a chance to join the star’s live shows. Rodriguez was hired in May 2021, as a dancer for Lizzo’s “Rumors” music video and stayed on with the dance team.
Davis and Williams were eventually fired, but Rodriguez resigned citing Lizzo’s behavior, according to the WCEL statement.