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Lizzo says hostile work environment allegations against her are 'unbelievable'

Lizzo performs at the Governors Ball Music Festival in the Queens borough of New York in June.
Andy Kropa
Lizzo performs at the Governors Ball Music Festival in the Queens borough of New York in June.

Updated August 3, 2023 at 9:25 AM ET

Three professional dancers filed a lawsuit against Lizzofor allegedly creating a hostile work environment, but she says the allegations are "sensationalized stories" by former employees who acted unprofessionally on tour.

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 a statement from West Coast Employment Lawyers, who are representing the plaintiffs.

"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, a four-time Grammy-winning artist who long has been known as a backer of body positivity and self-love, responded to the allegations made against her over X Corp, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, on Thursday morning.

"My work ethic, morals and respectfulness have been questioned. My character has been criticized," Lizzo writes. "Usually I choose not to respond to false allegations but these are as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous not to be addressed."

She writes that the former employees have publicly admitted that their behavior on tour was "inappropriate and unprofessional," and that she takes her music and performances seriously, which comes with 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 valuable as an important part of the team," she writes.

Citing her own experiences with body shaming, Lizzo denies criticizing or firing an employee because of their weight. She also doubles down on her position as a champion for women, saying there is nothing she takes more seriously.

In response, Zambrano wrote in a statement that Lizzo had failed her own brand and let down her fans.

"Her denial of this reprehensible behavior only adds to our clients' emotional distress," Zambrano writes. "While Lizzo notes it was never her intention 'to make anyone feel uncomfortable,' that is exactly what she did to the point of demoralizing her dancers and flagrantly violating the law."

The lawsuit alleges Lizzo, her production company Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc., and the captain of her dance team, Shirlene 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.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Dustin Jones is a reporter for NPR's digital news desk. He mainly covers breaking news, but enjoys working on long-form narrative pieces.