(Updated with Lizzo spokesperson statement) The legal battle over assault, harassment and discrimination claims between Lizzo and a trio of former tour dancers and reality show contestants has turned into a constitutional squabble, at least for now.
“Can a global celebrity be forever insulated from civil liability because all their conduct is protected as free speech under the anti-SLAPP statute?” rhetorically ask lawyers for Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez in an opposition filing this week to the Grammy winner’s attempt to have the matter tossed out of court. “Defendant Lizzo asks this Court to rule in exactly that fashion. Fortunately for all victims of celebrity malfeasance, the law says otherwise.”
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The recipient of the Record of the Year at the 65th Grammys, Lizzo plus her Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc and dance team head Shirlene Quigley have been accused by former Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls contestants Davis and Williams, along with Rodriguez, of body-shaming and being put through what the trio call an “excruciating” audition for their jobs.
Placed in the docket at LA Superior Court on August 1, the suit also alleges that the dancers were forced to attend and participate in sex shows at venues like Paris’ Crazy Horse cabaret while on tour, had their virginity made fun of, suffered “false imprisonment” and were subjected to religious tirades. The suit goes on to claim racial discrimination from the all-white management team against Davis, Williams and other non-African American dancers.
Followed in short order by another suit from Asha Daniels, a wardrobe designer who worked on Lizzo’s 2023 tour and claims of disrespect by Lizzo’s camp from Oscar nominated filmmaker Sophia Nahli Allison, the nine-claim complaint from Davis, Williams and Rodriguez seeks unspecified damages.
In addition to denials by Lizzo’s reps, declarations from staffers and other dancers to her good character, and the October 27 anti-SLAPP motion the Juice singer herself (real name Melissa Jefferson), Lizzo has pushed back against the claims. She went online in early August to deride the allegations as “sensationalized and coming from former employees who have already publicly admitted that they were told their behavior on tour was inappropriate and unprofessional.”
This week, it is Team Lizzo that’s essentially accused of being unprofessional or at least strategically selective.
“In an apparent effort to dupe this Court, Defendants either cherry-pick allegations or out-right omit allegations inconvenient to their position, instead sanitizing them with euphemisms,” the November 8 filing from the plaintiffs’ lawyers continues with an implied swipe at Lizzo’s heavyweight lawyer Marty Singer and his team at Lavely Singer.
“None of Plaintiffs’ claims arise from conduct implicating a public issue or interest,” the memorandum from attorneys at West Coast Lawyers APLC goes on to state. The document continues, “How exactly does Quigley relaying how she masturbates or performing oral sex on bananas implicate public interest? Or when Lizzo attempted to strike Plaintiff Rodriguez? Or when Plaintiff Davis was deprived of her phone and confined to a room? These acts, which give rise to the claims at issue here, do not implicate public issues, and thus cannot be protected.”
In closing, the 19-page filing insists Lizzo’s Special Motion to Strike “should be denied in its entirety as Plaintiffs’ claims do not rise from conduct that is protected under Code of Civil Procedure.”
“The ‘celebrity-can-do-what-they-want’ argument was shut down previously by the Court of Appeal in a case [in which] Marty Singer’s firm represented Shia LaBeouf,” plaintiffs’ lawyer Ron Zambrano told Deadline today. “They should know better.”
“Last month, 18 independent witnesses stood by Lizzo’s work ethic and character,” a spokesperson for the performer said Friday. ” It is clear since then, these plaintiff lawyers have come up with exactly zero to refute these facts.”
Lizzo’s “Special” Tour started on September 23, 2022, and ended on July 30 in Japan. With the exception of receiving the Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award in LA in September, Lizzo has kept a pretty low profile of late.
The anti-SLAPP battle in this case is set for a November 22 court hearing in downtown LA.
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