Lizzo has built a brand around body positivity self confidence with empowering upbeat hits and speeches. But now, the pop star is facing a lawsuit that levels serious allegations, including claims that she created a hostile work environment and engaged in sexual harassment. Lizzo has denied these allegations, which have raised questions both about her treatment of employees as well as the reality of the image she’s cultivated as a champion of plus-size women and women of color.
The lawsuit, filed by three of Lizzo’s former dancers this week, also alleges misconduct by her production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc., and her dance team captain Shirlene Quigley. Among the claims included in the suit is that Lizzo pressured dancers into unwanted sexual situations, made statements that were perceived as thinly veiled comments about a dancer’s weight gain, and put people through grueling rehearsals that led to one dancer soiling herself.
“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.
So what do we know about it so far?
Three people are named in the suit, not just Lizzo.
The lawsuit — brought by plaintiffs Crystal Williams, Arianna Davis, and Noelle Rodriguez — alleges nine areas of misconduct in total related to their experience on Lizzo’s “Special” tour. Some of these claims are made against all three defendants including Lizzo, Quigley, and Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc., while others are only alleged of some of the defendants. Additionally, some of the claims are made by all three plaintiffs, while others are only made by individual plaintiffs.
What exactly are the accusations?
The allegations made against all three defendants include a hostile work environment that featured sexual harassment, a failure to prevent or remedy sexual harassment in the workplace, and a failure to prevent or remedy religious harassment in the workplace.
The plaintiffs claim they were made to feel their employment was precarious, and that they had to comply with requests that made them uncomfortable in order to continue working. Some of those requests were of a sexual nature, including, among other things, pressure from Lizzo to attend a performance with nude dancers in Amsterdam, to eat bananas placed in nude dancers’ genitals, and pressure on one of the plaintiffs to touch a dancer’s breasts.
Other allegations were tied to religious harassment. The suit alleges Quigley spoke extensively about her religious views as a Christian and berated those who didn’t share these beliefs. It claims that one dancer’s virginity was frequently discussed without her consent, and that dancers were pressured to participate in group Christian prayer, regardless of their religious beliefs. All three defendants did little to remedy such actions despite knowing about them, the lawsuit claims.
This is not the first time an artist has been sued for poor working conditions in the music industry.
The lawsuit underscores the poor working conditions in the music industry, and the lack of accountability that exists for such abuses. Long hours, difficult physical labor, and short-term contracts are common, while institutional oversight of individual artists isn’t always present. Cher and Britney Spears have both also been sued by their employees in the past for alleged discrimination and battery. Cher’s case was dismissed and Spears settled her case.
“The sort of workplace described by the plaintiffs lends itself to harassment and exploitation,” says Martha Davis, a law professor at Northeastern University. “In this case, for example, there were not clear lines between employees’ own time and their jobs while on the tour.”
Former employees of Lizzo have defended and even supported the lawsuit.
More of the singer’s ex-employees then spoke out in support of the lawsuit filed against the Truth Hurts singer for allegedly subjecting them to weight-shaming and sexually denigrating behaviour. Hours after three of Lizzo’s former dancers came forward with the allegations, her former creative director, Quinn Whitney Wilson, and dancer Courtney Hollinquest claimed they experienced similar treatment.
Hollinquest said on her Instagram: “For clarification, I’m not a part of the lawsuit – but this was very much my experience in my time there. “Big shoutout to the dancers who had the courage to bring this to light.”
Some are questioning Lizzo’s choice of legal representation.
In wake of the lawsuit, Lizzo retained Hollywood lawyer Marty Singer to represent her. Singer is known in the industry for representing other A-list entertainers who have been accused of abusive behavior including Jonah Hill, Kim Kardashian, and Chris Brown.
Some stars have come to Lizzo’s defense.
Friends and colleagues of the pop star have taken to social media to offer support and encouragement including Missy Elliot, Cardi B, Bella Poarch, Jameela Jamil, and Grimes to name a few.
But others have remained noticeably silent.
The internet has been quick to point out that some of the people who have been the closest to Lizzo publicly have been rather quiet on the subject. People like Adele, Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes, and Rihanna have been actively vocal about their friendships with Lizzo in the past, but have stayed tight-lipped after the allegations. Perhaps most noticeably, in a recent performance, Beyonce omitted Lizzo’s name in the lyrics to her song Break My Soul, by replacing “Lizzo” with “Badu.”
Originally, the song’s lyrics were: “Rosetta Tharpe, Santigold, (Vogue) Bessie Smith, Nina Simone (Vogue), Betty Davis, Solange Knowles. Badu, Lizzo, Kelly Rowl’ (You know you can do it).” But in a Twitter video captured by a fan Beyoncé sang: “Betty Davis, Solange Knowles. Badu, Badu, Badu, Badu.”
Lizzo denies any wrong doing.
She recently pushed back, defending herself on an Instagram post claiming that the accusations are as “unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous to not be addressed.”
“These last few days have been gut wrenchingly difficult and overwhelmingly disappointing. My work ethic, morals and respectfulness have been questioned. My character has been criticized,” Lizzo began her statement on X (previously Twitter). “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.”
“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,” she continued.
“With passion comes hard work and high standards. Sometimes I have to make hard decisions but it’s never my intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable or like they aren’t valued as an important part of the team.”
The host and executive producer of “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” noted that while she does not want to be victimized, she is also “not the villain” she’s been painted out to be.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
This is an unfolding story. Check back for more details.