Lizzo’s request to throw out a lawsuit filed by three of her former dancers was denied by a judge on Friday, indicating the suit will proceed.
Judge Mark H. Epstein ruled in a 34-page decision in Los Angeles County Superior Court that Lizzo’s argument that the case be dismissed under the anti-SLAPP statute didn’t entirely fit the suit, though parts of it did.
The anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute allows defendants to quickly dismiss meritless suits that threaten their right to free speech under the First Amendment.
Epstein did elect to toss out some of the plaintiffs’ accusations against Lizzo and her team, including that Lizzo fat-shamed one of her dancers.
The judge also said the fact that Lizzo, whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, required dancers to pose for a nude photoshoot for her show “Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” was protected under anti-SLAPP law as a part of the “creative process,” which falls under protected free speech.
“This case presents a number of difficult issues,” Epstein conceded in his opinion. “And the courts are rightfully wary of injecting themselves into the creative process.”
“Finding the right balance is often no easy task, and this case is a perfect example,” Epstein said.
He acknowledged his court attempted to “thread the needle” of adhering to free speech laws while also considering allegations of misconduct and discrimination.
“It is dangerous for the court to weigh in, ham-fisted, into constitutionally protected activity, 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,” Epstein wrote.
Stefan Friedman, a spokesperson for Lizzo, said in a statement that the team is “pleased” that Epstein chose to throw out “all or part of four of the plaintiffs’ causes of action.”
“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,” Friedman said. “We plan to appeal all elements that the judge chose to keep in the lawsuit and are confident we will prevail.”
The original lawsuit, filed by Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez in August, alleged Lizzo created a hostile work environment and sexually harassed her employees.
It also named dance captain Shirlene Quigley and Lizzo’s production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, Inc., as defendants, and alleged Quigley proselytized to the dancers, even shaming those who had engaged in premarital sex.
Lizzo has denied all allegations against her in the suit, calling them “false,” “unbelievable” and “outrageous.”
Ron Zambrano, attorney for the three plaintiffs, said in a statement that they were “pleased” with the judge’s ruling and “consider it a victory on balance.”
He added that Epstein’s ruling to continue the case “signals that Lizzo — or any celebrity — is not insulated from this sort of reprehensible conduct merely because she is famous.”
Lizzo is facing a second lawsuit against her, also filed by a former employee — a fashion designer — who alleged her boss, Lizzo’s wardrobe manager, mocked and bullied other employees, including the dancers.
Lizzo tried to have that suit thrown out as well at the end of last year.