“Oh, I’ve been so down and under pressure,” Lizzo sings in her award-winning hit song “About Damn Time,” and the Watch Out for the Big Grrrls host might be feeling the poignancy of those lyrics more than ever right now.
A year after Lizzo won Record of the Year at the 65th annual Grammys for “About Damn Time,” the singer today finds herself facing a trial on sexual harassment, discrimination and other claims from a trio of her former tour dancers. The Marty Singer-represented Lizzo and fellow defendants Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc and dance team head Shirlene Quigley came up short in their attempt to have the explosive lawsuit filed in August gutted on free speech grounds.
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“It is dangerous for the court to weigh in, ham-fisted, into constitutionally protected activity,” LA Superior Court Judge Mark Epstein wrote in a ruling made public today, rejecting a large swath of Lizzo’s anti-SLAPP strategy on the matter (read it here). “But it is equally dangerous to turn a blind eye to allegations of discrimination or other forms of misconduct merely because they take place in a speech-related environment.”
Also, while Lizzo is looking at a trial likely next year, she won’t be facing all of the salacious claims that Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez hit her with last year.
A nude photoshoot conducted for Watch Out for the Big Grrrls is protected under free speech, according to Judge Epstein. That claim — as well as others connected to instances of body-shaming, employment “soft hold” and the trio being put through self-described “excruciating” auditions for their jobs — also fall under the protection of the First Amendment in the LASC judge’s POV. Calling the process “no easy task,” Judge Epstein agreed with Lizzo’s lawyers that California’s anti-SLAPP laws protect her on those claims from her Special Tour, which started on September 23, 2022, and ended on July 30.
That’s good news for Lizzo, but the overall result in a very mixed and thorny bag. As Judge Epstein noted: “The fact that the alleged incidents take place in the entertainment or speech world is no shield of invulnerability or license to ignore law enacted for the protection of California’s citizens.”
Represented by West Coast Entertainment Lawyers partner Ron Zambrano, Davis, Williams and Rodriguez’s suit alleges that they and other dancers were forced to attend and participate in sex shows at venues like Paris’ famed Crazy Horse cabaret while on tour with Lizzo. It goes on to claim they had their virginity mocked, were placed in “false imprisonment” and found themselves frequently at the receiving end of religious tirades from members of Lizzo’s tour staff. In that context, the August 1-filed action alleges racial discrimination from Lizzo’s all-white management team against Davis, Williams and other dancers.
The situation was exacerbated not longer afterward by another suit from Asha Daniels, a wardrobe designer who worked on Lizzo’s 2023 tour and claims of disrespect by the singer’s camp from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison.
Today, both sides in this dispute were claiming a victory of a sort.
“We are pleased that Judge Epstein wisely threw out all or part of four of the plaintiffs’ causes of action,” said Lizzo spokesperson Stefan Friedman to Deadline after the judge’s 34-page ruling was on the court docket. “Lizzo is grateful to the judge for seeing through much of the noise and recognizing who she is – a strong woman who exists to lift others up and spread positivity. We plan to appeal all elements that the judge chose to keep in the lawsuit and are confident we will prevail.”
Davis, Williams and Rodriguez’s team say they are the winners of this snafu because the case is still alive and heading to trial.
“We’re very pleased with the judge’s ruling, and we absolutely consider it a victory on balance,” attorney Zambrano said. “He did dismiss a few allegations, including the meeting where Arianna was fat-shamed, the nude photo shoot and dancers being forced to be on ‘hold’ while not on tour. However, all the other claims remain, including sexual, religious and racial discrimination, sexual harassment, the demeaning visits to the Bananenbar in Amsterdam and Crazy Horse in Paris, false imprisonment, and assault.”
He added: “The ruling also rightfully signals that Lizzo — or any celebrity — is not insulated from this sort of reprehensible conduct merely because she is famous. We now look forward to conducting discovery and preparing the case for trial.”
Which means this and the other cases against Lizzo could still be going on by the 67th annual Grammys in 2025 — a lot of damn time.
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