Lizzo Dancers Appeal Judge's Mixed Ruling in Singer's Anti SLAPP Motion

SANTA MONICA (CNS) - Three of four former Lizzo employees who accuse the singer of repeated sexual and racial harassment have filed a notice of their intention to appeal a judge's mixed ruling in January in the singer's anti-SLAPP filing.

Ex-Lizzo dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez sued Lizzo -- whose real name is Melissa Jefferson -- in Santa Monica Superior Court on Aug. 1 in addition to the singer's production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc., and the singer's dance captain, Shirlene Quigley.

On Tuesday, the plaintiffs' lawyers filed a notice of appeal of Judge Mark H. Epstein's Jan. 31 ruling. The notice does not state specific grounds for the appeal.

The 35-year-old Lizzo's attorneys filed an anti-SLAPP motion last Oct. 27, maintaining that each of the plaintiffs' nine asserted causes of action should be dismissed because they "arise from statements and other conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest."

The state's anti-SLAPP -- Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation -- law is intended to prevent people from using courts, and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate those who are exercising their First Amendment rights. Judge Mark H. Epstein heard arguments on Dec. 4, took the case under submission and granted the motion in part on Wednesday.

Plaintiffs' attorney Ronald L. Zambrano said at the time that the decision was nonetheless largely favorable to his clients and the case will proceed toward trial.

"We're very pleased with the judge's ruling and we absolutely consider it a victory on balance," Zambrano said previously. "(The judge) 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, false imprisonment and assault, according to Zambrano.

"The ruling also rightfully signals that Lizzo -- or any celebrity -- is not insulated from this sort of reprehensible conduct merely because she is famous," Zambrano said.

None of the dancers' claims involve conduct implicating a public issue or interest, Zambrano stated in his court papers.

"How exactly does Quigley relaying how she masturbates or performing oral sex on bananas implicate public interest?" Zambrano asked in his court papers.

In a sworn statement, Davis said she struggles with anxiety and depression that occasionally cause her to overeat and that she also has decided to remain a virgin until marriage.

However, Quigley regularly brought up Davis' virginity during conversations and mentioned it in an interview Quigley did that was later posted on social media, Davis said.

"I was not informed that Quigley would be a part of that interview and discuss my virginity without my permission," Davis said. "My virginity is not a secret and it is not something that I am ashamed of, however, I like to share that private part of myself on my own terms and in my own time with very specific people. Quigley was never given my permission to share this private detail about my life."

At one of the competitions, Davis and others were told that they would have to take part in a nude photo shoot, Davis said.

"Some of the contestants were not bothered by this at all, but for me and a couple of other participants, this idea was mortifying," Davis says. "I was severely distressed by this challenge because I am a very modest person in most settings and I did not want my family at home to see me naked on national television."

Davis says she was ultimately allowed to due the photo shoot partially clothed in a nude bra and nude underwear.

In her own declaration, Williams says Lizzo called a meeting with the dancers during touring in February to express the singer's concerns with the dance cast as a whole, saying she felt the energy and overall quality of performance was declining.

"Lizzo then told us that she was arranging for us to go to Crazy Horse, a place where there would be burlesque style dancers performing, suggesting that we would be able to learn something," Williams says. "Though I did not initially have an issue with attending, I was not aware of the full nature of the show until the curtains opened and I saw the shocking reveal for myself. To my surprise, the show was fully composed of nude performers."

Williams further says she was surprised that Lizzo did not tell the dancers in advance that they would be attending a show with nudity.

Clothing designer Asha Daniels separately sued the singer on Sept. 21 for alleged racial and sexual harassment as well as hostile work environment. Daniels designed the wardrobe for the dancers on Lizzo's 2023 tour.

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