Lizzo’s attorneys are firing back at a bombshell sexual harassment lawsuit filed by three of her former dancers, calling the allegations a “fabricated sob story” launched by “opportunists” seeking “a quick payday.”
In a motion to dismiss the case filed Friday (Oct. 27) in Los Angeles court, Lizzo’s team argued that the lawsuit — claiming sexual harassment discrimination, and fat-shaming — came from three women with “an axe to grind” who had shown “a pattern of gross misconduct and failure to perform their job up to par.”
“Plaintiffs embarked on a press tour, vilifying defendants and pushing their fabricated sob story in the courts and in the media. That ends today,” wrote Martin D. Singer, a well-known Hollywood attorney. “Instead of taking any accountability for their own actions, plaintiffs filed this lawsuit against defendants out of spite and in pursuit of media attention, public sympathy and a quick payday with minimal effort.”
In support of their motion, Lizzo’s attorneys also filed sworn statements from 18 members of her touring company who dispute many of the lawsuit’s specific factual accusations. That included several who challenged the headline-grabbing claim that Lizzo fat-shamed some of her dancers — a particularly loaded allegation against a singer who has made body positivity a key part of her brand.
“I never saw anyone, including plaintiffs, being weight shamed or body shamed,” one dancer wrote in Friday’s legal filings. “Far from it. Lizzo inspired all of us to celebrate and love ourselves and our bodies as we are.”
In their motion, Lizzo’s lawyers argued that the case should be dismissed immediately under California’s so-called anti-SLAPP statute — a special type of law enacted in states around the country that makes it easier to quickly end meritless lawsuits that threaten free speech.
It’s unusual to see an anti-SLAPP motion aimed at dismissing a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former employees against their employer. Such motions are more common in defamation cases, where a defendant argues that a powerful plaintiff is abusing the court system to silence them from speaking out.
But in Friday’s motion, Lizzo’s lawyers argued that the anti-SLAPP law could also apply to the current case because of the creative nature of the work in question.
“The complaint — and plaintiffs’ carefully choreographed media blitz surrounding its filing — is a brazen attempt to silence defendants’ creative voices and weaponize their creative expression against them,” Singer and Lizzo’s other lawyers wrote.
The case against Lizzo, filed in August by dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez, accuses the singer (real name Melissa Jefferson) and her Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc. of creating a hostile work environment through a wide range of legal wrongdoing, including not just sexual harassment but also religious and racial discrimination. The alleged weight-shaming, the lawsuit claims, amounted to a form of disability discrimination.
In one particularly vivid allegation, Lizzo’s accusers claimed she pushed them to attend a live sex show at a venue in Amsterdam’s famed Red Light District called Bananenbar, and then pressured them to engage with the performers, including “eating bananas protruding from the performers’ vaginas.” After Lizzo herself led a chant “goading” Davis to touch one performer’s breasts, the lawsuit says, Davis eventually did so.
But in Friday’s filings, Lizzo tour manager Molly Gordon sharply called into question that version of the evening.
“When I was at Bananenbar, I spoke with Davis. She did not say that she felt uncomfortable, that she felt forced to be there, or that she wanted to leave but felt that she could not do so,” Gordon said in the filing. “There would have been no question about whether she could leave if she was uncomfortable. I did not witness her engaging with any of the Bananenbar performers.”
Another key allegation in the August complaint was that Shirlene Quigley, the captain of Lizzo’s dance team, forced her religious beliefs on the plaintiffs and took repeated actions that made them uncomfortable, including commenting about their sexual virginity and simulating oral sex on a banana in front of them.
In sworn statements filed Friday, several members of the touring company disputed those allegations. Chawnta Van, a dancer, said the lawsuit’s description of Quigley was “not an accurate portrayal of her at all.”
“Quigley never treated anyone differently because of their religious or spiritual beliefs or actions,” Van said. “I never witnessed her bullying anyone about Jesus or about not having the same religious beliefs as she does, and that is completely contrary to who she is.”
The August complaint also detailed alleged outbursts by Lizzo, including an “excruciating re-audition” during which one dancer claims she wet herself because she feared she would be fired if she left the stage. The case also claims Lizzo repeatedly told dancers “none of their jobs were safe” and, most notably, raised “thinly veiled concerns” about Davis’ weight gain.
But according to Asia Banks, a dancer who described herself in Friday’s filings as “the biggest dancer on the tour,” she never experienced anything like that. “Lizzo always went out of her way to make me feel secure and confident in my body, including by making sure I was comfortable in every single costume for the show.”
Other statements from tour members alleged behavior and performance issues with Lizzo’s accusers. Zuri Appleby, a bass player, claimed Davis had been “lax about her performances, her hygiene and her health.” Gordon, the tour manager, said Williams had been terminated because she was “frequently late for rehearsals” and had missed a flight.
A representative for the plaintiffs did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday.