Lizzo preaches self-love and acceptance. But backstage, her team was mocked and bullied, designer says in a new lawsuit.

Lizzo performs during the 2023 Governors Ball Music Festival at Flushing Meadows Corona Park on June 09, 2023 in New York City.

Taylor Hill | Wireimage | Getty Images

The day she was set to receive an award recognizing her work promoting inclusivity and social justice, Lizzo was again sued by a former employee who said that behind the scenes, the entertainer allows bullying, harassment and racial discrimination. 

“I felt like I was living in a madhouse,” fashion designer Asha Daniels, 35, told NBC News the day before she filed her lawsuit against Lizzo and other members of the singer’s team. “It was totally shocking.”

“I was listening to this Black woman on this huge stage have this message of self-love and caring for others and being empathetic and being strong and standing up for others,” she said. “And I was witnessing myself, the dancers and the background vocalists and my local team in every city be harassed and bullied regularly.”

The suit, filed Thursday by lawyers for Daniels in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accused wardrobe manager Amanda Nomura of doing stereotypical impressions of Black women, referring to the performers as “fat,” “useless” and “dumb,” and forcing them to change in front of a mostly white, male stage crew who would “lewdly gawk” at them, the suit says.

Daniels was fired after she complained about Nomura, according to the suit.

“Lizzo is the boss, so the buck stops with her,” Daniels’ lawyer, Ron Zambrano, said in a statement Thursday. 

Zambrano, the lawyer for three former dancers who accused Lizzo of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment in a lawsuit last month, echoed allegations made in Daniels’ suit, saying Lizzo “has created a sexualized and racially charged environment on her tours that her management staff sees as condoning such behavior, and so it continues unchecked.”

Lizzo has previously said that although she has to make difficult decisions, “it’s never my intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable or like they aren’t valued as an important part of the team.”

Thursday’s suit alleged sexual harassment, racial discrimination, failure to prevent a hostile work environment and other accusations. Nomura was named as a defendant, as was Lizzo, whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, her production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc., and her tour manager, Carlina Gugliotta.

Representatives for Lizzo did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Gugliotta did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Attempts to reach Nomura were unsuccessful.

Lizzo has denied the previous allegations, calling the dancers’ accounts “sensationalized stories” that were false and “outrageous.”

Lizzo is set to be honored Thursday with the Black Music Action Coalition’s Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award for her philanthropic work and commitment to social justice, the group said in a news release.

“She has been a longtime advocate for inclusivity and uses her music to empower marginalized groups to promote diversity,” the release said.

Valuing female empowerment

Daniels first worked for Lizzo in September 2022, designing custom clothing for her dancers, and was hired early this year to tour with the performer, the lawsuit said.

Daniels said that she had been friendly with Nomura, and that she was thrilled to work for someone whose values of female empowerment she shared.

“As a Black woman myself, I love when I see Black women that have a big stage that use that stage to uplift us,” she said.

According to the suit, Daniels’ worked seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. and was told to work even after she injured her ankle. 

Nomura told Daniels never to interact with Lizzo or to dress attractively in front of her because it may make Lizzo jealous, the suit said. Even though she was taken aback by the comment — “Lizzo is beautiful, she’s talented, she’s got an amazing career, she has no reason to be jealous of anyone,” Daniels told NBC News — she said she followed the rule and never spoke to Lizzo.

Privacy concerns

The dancers were forced to change in front of Lizzo’s stage crew, most of whom were white men who would “lewdly gawk, sneer, and giggle while watching the dancers rush through their outfit changes,” the suit alleged. 

When Daniels complained to Nomura that the dancers had no privacy, Nomura allegedly told her not to alert anyone else to the matter, according to the suit.

Daniels was scolded for providing new stockings to dancers after they damaged their clothing while performing and was “specifically instructed to not give certain dancers panties, mirrors, or items they would need and ask for, despite those items being stocked,” the suit said. The suit did not indicate why. 

Alleged slurs, threats and offensive impressions

Nomura allegedly mocked Lizzo and her dancers with what the lawsuit described as a “stereotypical sassy Black woman imitation.” Daniels told her the imitations were offensive, the suit said, and Nomura ignored her.

Nomura also appeared to threaten employees, according to the suit. On one occasion, she used a slur and said she would “kill” anyone who put her job in jeopardy, the suit said.

After Daniels complained to Gugliotta, Lizzo’s tour manager, she allegedly asked Daniels to surreptitiously record Nomura, according to the suit.

Daniels declined, believing it would be unethical and possibly illegal, and continued to work for Lizzo, according to the suit.

Sexually charged complaints

When they traveled to Amsterdam, she heard managers discussing hiring sex workers for lewd sex acts, attending sex shows and buying hard drugs, according to the suit.

Daniels said she did not attend the events. The lawsuit filed last month on behalf of three former dancers describes one of those dancers going to an Amsterdam strip club, Bananaenbar, and accuses Lizzo of encouraging cast members to engage with performers and pressuring the dancer to touch one of them.   

The dancer repeatedly declined, according to the suit, but relented after Lizzo allegedly led a chant goading her to do so.

Daniels’ suit also alleged that a manager texted a sexually graphic image to more than two dozen people.

“No one from LIZZO’s management team addressed this graphic sexual imagery in the workplace appropriately,” the suit said.

In February, Daniels told the tour manager, Gugliotta, about what the suit called “widespread racial and sexual harassment” taking place on tour. She was fired weeks later, on March 6, the same day she said Nomura scolded her for taking a break after an allergic reaction, the suit said.

Daniels told NBC News she learned of her termination via a plane ticket in her email.

The tour manager later told Daniels that “everyone” was aware Nomura was “crazy” and apologized several times but said it would be too difficult to replace Nomura, the suit said. The manager told Daniels that Nomura wanted her “gone” for speaking up, according to the suit.

Although Daniels had come to view her working conditions as increasingly hopeless, she said, she was stunned about her removal. She had been committed to staying for her relationships with the dancers and others who she said weren’t getting the support they deserved.

The firing was especially stunning, Daniels added, because she said Gugliotta had nothing but praise for her designs.

Afterward, Daniels said, the manager asked if she would continue doing design work for the dancers — an offer Daniels said she accepted because of her relationships with the performers and because she didn’t want them wearing mass-produced leotards purchased online, a “highly disrespectful” option Daniels said they’d previously been given.

While working for Lizzo and in the months that followed, Daniels suffered lingering physical and psychological problems, including anxiety and impaired vision, according to the suit. She said she previously considered suing Lizzo over what she described as the most toxic work environment she’d ever experienced, but she came forward only after learning of last month’s lawsuit.

“Not only do they deserve for me to stand up for them, but I also deserve to stand up for myself,” she said. “Twenty-five-year-old Asha deserves someone to stand up for her.”

Daniels’ plea to Lizzo and her managers now, she said, is to take the performer’s values of love and support seriously.

“Black women deserve to work in spaces where we feel safe, where we aren’t being harassed, where we aren’t being sexualized,” she said. “We’re allowed to just be great and work hard, and be treated the way that everyone else is allowed to be treated.”

Source – CNBC