US singer Lizzo, whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, is being sued by three of her former dancers over claims including sexual harassment, discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.
In a civil lawsuit filed in early August in a Los Angeles court, the dancers denounce an “over-sexualized” work atmosphere. Among their claims, they state that one of them was pressured into touching the nude breasts of a dancer in a club in Amsterdam’s red light district.
The lawsuit also alleges that the dancers faced racial discrimination by the managers of Lizzo’s production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, Inc. (BGBT).
Arianna Davis, one of the dancers who is suing, claims Lizzo made comments about her putting on weight before firing her. Another one of the dancers, Crystal Williams, said in an interview with Sky News that the statement Lizzo released on Instagram wasn’t addressing the accusations, but instead confirmed “the pattern of every time somebody speaks up or advocates for themselves, like we’re doing now, we get victim-blamed, we get gaslighted.”
In the wake of the lawsuit, Ron Zambrano, the lawyer whose firm is representing Lizzo’s former dancers, also told US network NBC News on Tuesday that they had received more allegations from at least six other people who say they toured or worked with Lizzo, and who complain of a “sexually charged environment” and failure to pay employees.
Their cases are now being reviewed, said Zambrano, who added that it was too early to tell if those claims were also actionable.
Lizzo reacts to lawsuit on Instagram
Lizzo’s image as a body positivity icon is shaken by the lawsuit.
While she or her team has not yet reacted to the new claims, she has denied the allegations in the lawsuit in an Instagram post, in which she wrote:
“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. Usually I choose not to respond to false accusations but these are as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous not to be addressed.”
The 35-year-old Grammy winner noted that the “sensationalized stories are coming from former employees who have already publicly admitted that they were told their behavior on tour was inappropriate and unprofessional.” There is nothing she takes more seriously than treating women with respect, she added.
The advocate of body positivity and self-love insists that nobody should be criticized for their looks or their weight: “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,” she stated in her post.
“I am very open with my sexuality and expressing myself, but I can’t accept or allow people to take advantage of that openness to portray me as something I’m not,” the singer also wrote.
Lizzo has shown in the past that she takes public criticism very seriously.
Last year, after fans and disability advocates pointed out that she had used a derogatory term for spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, in her song “Grrrls,” she promptly released a new version of the track with a changed lyric.
Pop stars show solidarity with Lizzo
Lizzo’s statement has been met with mixed reactions from her followers, but various stars have “liked” her Instagram post, including queer rapper Lil Nas X, Britney Spears’ sister Jamie Lynn Spears, Ozzy Osbourne’s daughter Kelly Osbourne, actress Jennifer Garner, “Pose” star Billy Porter, “Heartstopper” star Joe Locke and “Queer Eye” host Jonathan van Ness.
US actress Kristin Chenoweth commented, “This will be a blip soon enough. Keep your head held high girl. You know who you are. Others like to take the opportunity to get what they can. Ignore. Delete. It will be over soon.”
Drag queen Ada Vox also added a supportive comment: “I’ve known many people and other artists who have worked with & for you, and I’ve never heard anyone say anything but fantastic things about the energy and working environment they experienced. I’m hoping and praying all of this clears up soon.”
Documentary filmmaker slams Lizzo as ‘arrogant’ and disrespectful
Filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison, who was set to make a documentary about Lizzo in 2019, shared her negative experiences with the singer on social media. She wrote on Instagram and Twitter, “I usually do not comment on anything pop culture related. But, in 2019, I traveled a bit with Lizzo to be the director of her documentary. I walked away after about two weeks. I was treated with such disrespect by her.”Allison added that she “witnessed how arrogant, self-centered, and unkind she is.” The filmmaker’s reaction was to leave the project, and she is “grateful” that she did, adding that she “felt gaslit and was deeply hurt.”
Sending her support to the dancers, the filmmaker concluded, “This kind of abuse of power happens far too often.”
Lizzo was also sharply criticized by other social media users, who weren’t satisfied by her statement.
According to legal scholar Diana Reddy, who commented on the case in the New York Times, it is difficult to prove that a work environment in the entertainment industry is hostile, which is why the former employees might be actually hoping for an out-of-court settlement.
Meanwhile, Lizzo’s image has already suffered considerably. She has lost more than 150,000 followers on Instagram in the wake of the scandal, and her streaming numbers have also been declining since the allegations were made public.
This article was originally written in German.