What to Know About the Harassment and Hostile-Workplace Claims Against Lizzo

Photo: Jim Dyson/Redferns/Getty Images

Asha Daniels, a stylist who worked on the Special Tour for less than a month earlier this year, has added to the pile of legal complaints against Lizzo, alleging that the singer oversaw a hostile work environment and encouraged misconduct on her most recent tour. Daniels filed her lawsuit on September 21 in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the singer, her production company Big Grrrl Big Touring, her wardrobe manager, Amanda Nomura, and her tour manager, Carlina Gugliotta.

Daniels does not directly accuse Lizzo of harassment in her complaint. However, her allegations build on the suit three of her former dancers filed in August, naming not only the singer, but also her production company and her dance captain, Shirlene Quigley. The dancers allege that Lizzo and Quigley sexually harassed them and created a hostile work environment. They also accuse Quigley of religious harassment and Lizzo, whose birth name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, of disability discrimination and assault.

“Lizzo is the boss, so the buck stops with her,” Ron Zambrano, who represents Daniels as well as the dancers, said in a press release. “She has created a sexualized and racially charged environment on her tours that her management staff sees as condoning such behavior, and so it continues unchecked.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the singer, Stefan Friedman, suggested Daniels’s lawsuit was an attention grab. In a statement gesturing to Lizzo’s recent receipt of the Black Music Action Committee’s Humanitarian Award, Friedman praised “the incredible charitable work she has done to lift up all people,” and accused “an ambulance-chasing lawyer” of “recruiting someone to file a bogus, absurd publicity-stunt lawsuit who, wait for it, never actually met or even spoke with Lizzo.”

“We will pay this as much attention as it deserves,” he added. “None.”

In court documents filed on September 27, Lizzo’s attorneys said that she “denies each and every allegation” by the dancers, and asked a judge to dismiss their suit “in its entirety with prejudice,” according to Deadline. If the whole lawsuit isn’t thrown out, Lizzo wants a jury trial, which the plaintiffs have also said they want. She has yet to file a formal response to Daniels’s complaint.

Here’s what we know about the lawsuits so far.

What do the dancers allege?

On August 2, Lizzo, Quigley, and Big Grrrl Big Touring were all named in a lawsuit filed by three dancers — Crystal Williams, Arianna Davis, and Noelle Rodriguez — who had worked on the artist’s Special Tour, which began in September 2022 and ended in July. Davis and Williams began dancing with Lizzo after competing on her Amazon Prime reality-TV show, Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, a program Lizzo said she created to highlight plus-size dancers and to help her find dancers for her team. Rodriguez was hired to dance in the singer’s “Rumors” video in 2021. In court documents shared with the Cut, the dancers allege that Lizzo and Quigley sexually harassed them and created a hostile work environment, exposing them to “an overtly sexual atmosphere.” What’s more, they claim Lizzo pressured them to “attend outings where nudity and sexuality were a focal point,” disregarding their discomfort in these settings. The outings were optional, according to the filing, but those who attended seemed to be “favored, selected to perform with Lizzo at shows outside of regularly scheduled tour dates, and were widely considered to enjoy greater job security,” the suit states.

They also say they experienced body-shaming on the job, an especially shocking allegation, as Lizzo has often been praised for promoting body positivity. She has frequently spoken out about being the target of online body-shaming and harassment and the toll that took on her mental and emotional health. “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,” Zambrano, who also represents the dancers, wrote in a statement to the Cut.

Davis, Williams, and Rodriguez claim that in February, after performing in Amsterdam, they went with Lizzo to the Bananenbar, a nightclub in the city’s red-light district. While there, Lizzo allegedly “hounded her employees to catch dildos ejected from performers’ vaginas,” “cheered loudly to motivate employees to eat bananas protruding from performers’ vaginas,” and “shouted at her security guard to remove his pants while he was being whipped.” Davis claims Lizzo urged her to touch the breast of a nude performer at the nightclub, which she declined to do. Lizzo, the suit says, then refused to take “no” for an answer and instead began a chant, which others joined, goading Davis into touching the nude Bananenbar performer. The chant grew louder until “finally,” the filing states, “the chorus became overwhelming, and a mortified Ms. Davis acquiesced in an attempt to bring an end to the chants.”

The suit alleges that in March, after performing in Paris, Lizzo invited the dancers to Crazy Horse, a cabaret club, so they could “learn something or be inspired.” Davis, Williams, and Rodriguez claim that Lizzo did not tell them the performers would be naked, thereby “robbing them of the choice not to participate.”

The dancers claim that while on tour in April, they had to endure an exhausting 12-hour reaudition to keep their jobs after Lizzo accused them of drinking alcohol before performing — an accusation the dancers and their captain, Quigley, denied per the suit. What was scheduled as an eight-hour rehearsal stretched into 12 hours. The suit claims that at one point during the reaudition, Davis was afraid to leave the stage to use the bathroom. She says she eventually “lost control of her bladder” and soiled herself. The spare clothes given to her were sheer and made her feel “exposed and even more embarrassed,” per court docs.

The next day, Lizzo allegedly accused the dancers again of drinking on the job. Williams again denied the accusation, to which Lizzo is alleged to have mockingly responded, “Well, if you’re not, then good for you.” Williams was purportedly fired by the tour manager in a hotel lobby five days later. Rodriguez claims she questioned Williams’s firing publicly to the tour manager and says that the next day, Lizzo called another meeting during which she told dancers that she had “eyes and ears everywhere.”

Davis recorded that meeting on her phone — something she claims to have done frequently because of a medical condition she says Lizzo and her production team knew about — which allegedly prompted Lizzo to call an emergency meeting at which her security team took the dancers’ phones. The singer “became furious, hurling expletives at the group and stated that she was going to go around the room person-by-person until someone told” her who made the recording, the suit says. Davis admitted to recording the meeting, claiming she did so only to be able to go over performance notes from Lizzo. She also allegedly said she had already deleted the recording. The suit claims that Lizzo told Davis there was “nothing” she could say to make the singer believe her. “Ms. Quigley and Lizzo then took turns berating Ms. Davis” before Lizzo fired her, according to the suit.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez remained employed by Lizzo and part of the tour until she resigned in May.

What’s that about allegations of weight-shaming and racism?

In April, Lizzo and choreographer Tanisha Scott allegedly called Davis into a meeting and asked for an explanation as to why she “seemed less bubbly and vivacious” than she had at the start of the tour. According to the filing, Davis said she had personal issues, including having been recently diagnosed with binge-eating disorder, but she explained that they were not affecting her performance. She claims to have told the women she thought she had, in fact, become a better performer since the start of the tour, but she also felt the questions about her performance were “thinly veiled concerns about [her] weight gain, which Lizzo had previously called attention to.” The questions, combined with prior comments made by Lizzo, made the dancer feel as if she “needed to explain her weight gain and disclose intimate personal details about her life in order to keep her job,” the suit states.

The women also claim that Big Grrrl Big Touring “treated the Black members of the dance team differently than other members” and that white members of the management company “accused the Black members of the dance team of being lazy, unprofessional, and having bad attitudes,” words the plaintiffs say are used to “disparage and discourage Black women from advocating for themselves.

And what is Shirlene Quigley being sued for?

Quigley, currently the tour’s dance captain and previously one of the judges on Watch Out for the Big Grrrls, is accused of making “constant sexually inappropriate comments.” She is also accused of religious harassment, with the dancers claiming that, on more than one occasion, Quigley subjected them to her religious beliefs. She allegedly singled out Rodrguez for not being a Christian and “made it her mission to preach at Ms. Rodriguez,” the suit says. Additionally, when Quigley learned Davis was a virgin, the suit says, she discussed it with Davis repeatedly, mentioned it on social media, and talked about it in interviews, all without Davis’s consent. She “continued to keep tabs on Ms. Davis’s virginity and made it clear [she] thought the only way one could be a proper Christian was through similar abstinence,” according to the suit.

The suit doesn’t say whether Lizzo was aware of Quigley’s purported behavior or not.

What does Daniels allege?

On September 21, Daniels, a designer, filed her own lawsuit that claims she experienced an “unsafe, sexually charged workplace culture” in which alleged misconduct was encouraged. Wardrobe manager Amanda Nomura had asked Daniels to join the Special Tour in January to help alter and repair the dancers’ costumes as needed, according to the complaint.

Shortly after Daniels joined the tour in mid-February, “the disappointing reality of working on Lizzo’s tour sunk in,” the lawsuit reads. She alleges that she worked 20-hour days and was “frequently denied breaks” by Nomura, who “monitored and policed” her subordinates. Daniels alleges the wardrobe manager made threatening comments to workers — including that that she would “kill a bitch” and “stab a bitch” when she could not find her medication — and that Lizzo and her management team were aware of those threats.

Daniels also alleges that sexual harassment was rife within the tour. “There was a group chat of over 30+ people from the BGBT team, which included Lizzo tour management and Plaintiff,” the lawsuit reads. “In the group message, a backstage manager sent a photo graphically depicting male genitalia.”

While in Amsterdam, Daniels claims that Nomura and other supervisors discussed “hiring sex workers for lewd acts, attending sex shows, and buying hard drugs” and pressured her to join. The lawsuit also alleges that tour manager Carlina Gugliotta ignored concerns that she raised about the “widespread racial and sexual harassment” on tour and the way in which “Black dancers were being mocked, objectified, and denied accommodations by the stage crew and Nomura.” Daniels’s suit claims she was fired “without notice or reason” after speaking up about what she’d witnessed and experienced on tour. Though her complaint does not accuse Lizzo of misconduct, in a September 29 interview with ABC News, Daniels indicated that she believes a professional environment ultimately comes down to the boss. “I can say in my own life, I’m responsible for the people who work for me and who work on my projects,” she said. “I think that everybody is.”

In the suit, the designer alleges that during her short stint on tour, Nomura would refer to the Black women on the tour as “dumb,” “useless,” and “fat.” Daniels felt Nomura’s behavior was racially motivated. “It’s not lost on me that I’m one of the only Black women working behind the scenes and I feel like Nomura is treating me like I’m a slave,” she says she told the tour manager when she brought up her concerns about the work environment, according to the complaint.

Has Lizzo said anything about the lawsuits since they were filed?

Lizzo denied the dancers’ accusations in a statement posted to her Instagram. “Usually I choose not to respond to false allegations but these are as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous to not be addressed,” she wrote. “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.” She explained that she holds her team to high standards and, although she sometimes has “to make hard decisions,” she has never intended “to make anyone feel uncomfortable or like they aren’t valued as an important part of the team.” She went on to say that she doesn’t want to portray herself as a victim but believes she is “not the villain that people and the media have portrayed me to be these last few days.”

The statement continues:

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.

During an appearance on Entertainment Tonight, Williams said Lizzo’s response to the suit was an example of gaslighting by the singer. “It’s just very interesting to be so open and genuine about the trauma that we experienced and to be open about the hurt that she caused us, for her to [respond by] essentially gaslighting us.” She added that Lizzo’s statement “never acknowledged any of the claims that we have brought forward to the table. And so for it to be met with that, it just kind of solidifies the pattern that every time we bring up an issue, every time we advocate for ourselves, every time we speak up for ourselves, we’re met with retaliation.”

Before Lizzo commented on the suit, however, other people in her orbit chimed in, airing their experiences working with the singer. Her former creative director, Quinn Wilson, showed support for Davis, Williams, and Rodriguez, writing on her Instagram Story, “I very much applaud the dancers courage to bring this to light. And I grieve parts of my own experience. Id appreciate space to understand my feelings.” Courtney Hollinquest, who also used to dance for Lizzo, took to Instagram to applaud the plaintiffs. “I’m not a part of the lawsuit — but this was very much my experience in my time there,” she wrote in her Story.

Director Sophia Nahli Allison shared on Instagram that, in 2019, she traveled with Lizzo to direct a documentary about the singer but “walked away” after two weeks. “I was treated with such disrespect by her,” she wrote. “I witnessed how arrogant, self-centered, and unkind she is. I was not protected and was thrown into a shitty situation with little support. My spirit said to run as fast as you fucking can and I’m so grateful I trusted my gut.”

On August 23, Lizzo’s attorney, Marty Singer, told TMZ that Lizzo will be filing a countersuit against Davis, Williams, and Rodriguez. The attorney pointed to photos in which Davis, Williams, and Rodriguez can be seen “gleefully reveling” and “happily cavorting,” as Singer put it, with the topless Crazy Horse performers backstage — after a show they say they were forced to attend. Singer also took issue with an audition tape Davis recorded in April, in which she spoke highly of Lizzo. “She tried to explain away her glowing comments about Lizzo by claiming the ‘bulk’ of her accusations were based on things that happened later,” Singer said, but as he sees it, the images contradict her claims.

Neama Rahmani, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told TMZ that the women were smiling in the photos at Crazy Horse because “they wanted to keep their jobs. They had bills to pay just like everyone else but they finally had enough of the abuse. We stand by every claim in the lawsuit and look forward to trial.”

For her part, Quigley shared a video on her Instagram Story professing her love of God. “God loves you so, so, so, so, so, so much, no matter what you’re going through,” she says in the video. “Even if you don’t love him, he loves you. Glory to God. I just wanted to remind you that he is love, he is true, he is the light, he is the first and the last, and all things work together for those that are called according to his purpose. I feel so blessed, I feel so thankful, I feel so full of joy. I had such an amazing time on tour, and I’m so excited to be home resting with my family and my dog after an amazing experience.”

Has anyone come to Lizzo’s defense?

In mid-August, a clip of Beyoncé shouting “I love you Lizzo!” during the Atlanta stop of her Renaissance tour circulated on Twitter. Whether she was showing her support for the singer or addressing a perceived snub, it wasn’t immediately clear.

A few days later, the Big Grrrls Instagram account, which is the official account for Lizzo’s group of background dancers, posted a statement in support of the singer, signed by “the Big Grrrls and Big Boiiis.” “We have had the time of our lives on The Special Tour,” it read, thanking Lizzo for “shattering limitations and kicking in the door way for the Big Grrrl & Big Boiii Dancers to do what we love.” The post elaborated on the “advantages to prevailing over hardships that society and the entertainment and beauty industry can bring,” and emphasized that “the standards and existence of Beauty in THIS Team goes beyond the surface.”

Representatives for Quigley and Scott did not respond to the Cut’s requests for comment. Attempts to contact Big Grrrl Big Touring were not successful. 

This article has been updated.

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