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Lizzo Dancers Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Put on Hold by Judge While Star Appeals Ruling

A Los Angeles judge is pressing pause on a bombshell sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Lizzo by three of her former backup dancers, halting all proceedings while the star appeals a recent ruling that allowed the case to move forward.

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In a decision Thursday, Judge Mark H. Epstein ordered the case “stayed” while Lizzo challenges his January ruling, which largely rejected her efforts to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP statute — a special law that makes it easier to quickly end meritless lawsuits that threaten free speech.

It’s unclear how long that process will take, but it will be at least several months before the case resumes.

Lizzo (real name Melissa Jefferson) was sued in August by dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez, who claim she and her Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc. created a hostile work environment through a wide range of legal wrongdoing, including sexual harassment and religious and racial discrimination.

In one particularly vivid allegation, Lizzo’s accusers claimed she pushed them to attend a live sex show at a venue in Amsterdam’s famed Red Light District called Bananenbar, and then pressured them to engage with the performers, including “eating bananas protruding from the performers’ vaginas.” After Lizzo herself allegedly led a chant “goading” Davis to touch one performer’s breasts, the lawsuit says, Davis eventually did so.

Repped by Hollywood defense attorney Martin D. Singer, Lizzo fired back in October, arguing that Davis, Williams and Rodriguez filed the case seeking “a quick payday with minimal effort.” He said they had “an axe to grind” against the star because they had been reprimanded over “a pattern of gross misconduct and failure to perform their job up to par.”

Lizzo’s motion to dismiss the case cited the anti-SLAPP statute, which stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” Her lawyers called the harassment lawsuit “a brazen attempt to silence defendants’ creative voices and weaponize their creative expression against them.” 

But in his ruling in January, Judge Epstein ruled that the anti-SLAPP law didn’t quite fit all of the lawsuit’s allegations. He tossed out some claims – including a particularly loaded charge that Lizzo fat-shamed one of her dancers – but ruled that remainder of the case could go forward. 

Figuring out the proper balance – between protected speech and illegal discrimination – was “no easy task,” Judge Epstein wrote, but he said he had “tried to thread this needle.”

“It is dangerous for the court to weigh in, ham-fisted, into constitutionally protected activity,” the judge wrote. “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.”

It’s that ruling that Lizzo is now appealing. The coming appellate fight will aim to answer tricky questions about the anti-SLAPP statute – a provision that is often used to fight back against defamation lawsuits, not against discrimination lawsuit filed by former employees against their employer.

In statement Friday, the accusers’ attorney Ron Zambrano said: “This case now hinges on appeals. They’ll file, then we’ll cross-file, so the judge has stayed the case for the time being pending those appeals.” An attorney for Lizzo did not immediately return a request for comment.

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