In what amounts to a 31-point rebuttal against claims that the dancers were subjected to sexual harassment and a hostile work environment while on tour with the singer, Lizzo and her Big Grrrl Big Touring company are requesting that the court dismiss the case with prejudice (meaning it cannot be refiled). In the event the court declines to dismiss it, the defendants are requesting a jury trial.
In the original complaint, filed Aug. 1 in Los Angeles court, dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez accused Lizzo (real name Melissa Jefferson) and Big Grrrl Big Touring of several allegations. Among them: that Lizzo pressured dancers to attend a sex show in Amsterdam and interact with the nude performers; that dance team captain Shirlene Quigley repeatedly engaged in behavior that made them feel uncomfortable; that Lizzo “called attention” to a dancer’s weight gain following a performance; that employees of the touring company singled out Black dancers by accusing them of “being lazy, unprofessional and having bad attitudes”; and that Lizzo denied dancers bathroom breaks during an “excruciating re-audition” process.
The new document — filed Wednesday by Lizzo’s lawyers, Martin Singer, Michael Weinsten and Melissa Lerner — offers more than 30 wide-ranging defenses to the dancers’ complaint. They include:
- That the plaintiffs “ratified, acquiesced, condoned, and/or approved of the acts or omissions of Defendants, in whole or in part, about which Plaintiffs now complain”;
- That the defendants’ alleged conduct “was undertaken in good faith and with good cause” and “undertaken for legitimate reasons reasonably related to one or more lawful business purposes”;
- That the plaintiffs are “guilty of unclean hands,” which in legal terms means they have done something unethical and should therefore be denied relief;
- That the plaintiffs should be barred from pursuing the case based on the doctrine of estoppel, meaning they have acted unfairly or made false representations in bringing the lawsuit;
- That the plaintiffs failed to “mediate in good faith pursuant” to their contract terms with Big Grrrl Big Touring and are subject to arbitration under those terms;
- That the claims are preempted by California’s Workers’ Compensation Act and should therefore be decided by the workers’ compensation appeals board as opposed to the court;
- That if the plaintiffs were harmed as alleged, the plaintiffs and/or others who are not listed as defendants “contributed, in whole or in part,” to that harm;
- That the defendants’ alleged actions arose from the exercise of their rights of free speech and/or religion;
- That plaintiffs failed to “avail themselves” of internal anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures while employed on the tour;
- That plaintiffs’ claims regarding discrimination or retaliation should be barred because any employment decisions were made “for legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-pretextual reasons and Defendants acted out of business necessity”;
- That the plaintiffs “have failed to plead and cannot establish facts sufficient to support allegations of malice, oppression or fraud”;
- That defendants are not liable for punitive damages because they did not “engage in wrongful conduct,” “authorize or ratify any wrongful conduct,” or “have advance knowledge of the unfitness of any employee and employ that employee with a conscious disregard of the rights and safety of others.”
“This is the first step of a legal process in which Lizzo and her team will demonstrate that they have always practiced what they’ve preached — whether it comes to promoting body positivity, leading a safe and supportive workplace or protecting individuals from any kind of harassment,” said Lizzo spokesperson Stefan Friedman in a statement. “Any and all claims to the contrary are ridiculous, and we look forward to proving so in a court of law.”
In response to the new filing, the dancers’ attorney, Neama Rahmani, released the following statement: “Lizzo’s answer merely consists of boilerplate objections that have nothing to do with the case. That said, the key takeaway is that Lizzo is agreeing to our clients’ demand for a jury trial. We look forward to presenting our case in court and letting a panel of her peers decide who is telling the truth, Lizzo and her team who continue to shame the victims or the plaintiffs and so many others who have come forward sharing similar stories of abuse and harassment.”
Though this is Lizzo’s first legal response to the lawsuit, the singer categorically denied the dancers’ claims two days after it was filed, stating on social media that the allegations were 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,” she added. Later that day, the dancers appeared on CNN This Morning to rehash their allegations and called Lizzo’s statement “disheartening” and “incredibly frustrating.”
Two weeks later, Lizzo’s Big Grrrls dance team released a statement in support of the singer, saying they “had the time of our lives” on the tour and continuing, “The commitment to character and culture taking precedence over every movement and moment has been one of the Greatest lessons and Blessings that we could possibly could ask for.”
The Aug. 1 lawsuit is the first of two that have been brought against Lizzo. Earlier this month, the singer — along with her wardrobe manager Amanda Nomura, tour manager Carlina Gugliotta and Big Grrrl Big Touring — were sued by clothing designer Asha Daniels, who alleged sexual and racial harassment, disability discrimination, assault, illegal retaliatory termination and more while working on Lizzo’s Special tour.
The second lawsuit dropped the same day Lizzo was due to receive the Black Music Action Coalition’s Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award at the organization’s 2023 gala.
While accepting the honor that evening, Lizzo — who was introduced by cast members from her Emmy-winning reality show, Watch Out For the Big Grrrls — gave an emotional speech in which she said, “I’m going to continue to be who I am, no matter who’s watching. I’m going to continue to amplify the voices of marginalized people because I have a microphone and I know how to use it. And I’m going to continue to put on, represent and create safe spaces for Black fat women because that’s what the f— I do!”
She continued, “This support right now means the world to me.”
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