SANTA MONICA, Calif. (CNS) - Attorneys representing three of four former Lizzo employees who accuse the singer of repeated sexual and racial harassment lost a round in court Friday when a judge denied their request to lift a stay in the case, which they sought in order to take depositions of all those who have submitted declarations in a defense anti-SLAPP filing, including one of Lizzo herself.
The three plaintiffs will "need to make a far stronger showing than they have done to date to obtain that relief given the actual burden that they must carry to defeat the (anti-SLAPP motion)," Santa Monica Superior Court Judge Mark H. Epstein wrote.
Ex-Lizzo dancers Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez sued Lizzo, whose real name is Melissa Jefferson, on Aug. 1 as well as the singer's production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc.; her wardrobe manager, Amanda Nomura; and her tour manager, Carlina Gugliotta.
On Oct. 27, Lizzo's attorneys filed an anti-SLAPP motion, 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."
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The filing placed an automatic stay on the case. On Monday, the plaintiffs' responded to the anti-SLAPP motion, stating in their court papers that although typically an automatic hold is placed on discovery once such a motion is brought, the defense declarations give "a false perception of the reality plaintiffs suffered."
The plaintiffs' attorneys wanted to depose the defense declarants who maintain that the plaintiffs were not subjected to harassment and discrimination, saying in their court papers that there is a "strong implication that the declarations were signed in an attempt to keep the boss happy, implicitly intimidate the plaintiffs and create a skewed narrative by merely repeating it 20 times compared to the reality that plaintiffs lived and suffered through."
Epstein said he was not swayed by the plaintiffs' attorneys' arguments in favor of lifting the discovery hold.
"Moreover, while plaintiffs contend that the discovery they seek is very limited, in the same sentence they say that they need to take 21 depositions," the judge said. "That is not very limited."
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. In their anti-SLAPP motion, Lizzo's legal team included sworn statements from 18 members of Lizzo's touring party, who take issue with many of the lawsuits specific accusations, including allegations she had fat- shamed some of her dancers.
Lizzo herself is one of the multiple defense declarants.
"I have never personally engaged in nor condoned others engaging in sexual harassment, religious harassment, racial discrimination or disability discrimination," Lizzo says. "I have never fat-shamed or body-shamed anyone or allowed someone else to do so on my watch.
A hearing on Lizzo's anti-SLAAP motion is scheduled Nov. 22. In a separate ruling, Epstein denied a plaintiffs' motion to allow them to file a 25- page opposition to the anti-SLAPP motion rather than be limited to the mandatory 15-page limit.
"If the court, upon reading the opposition, concludes that plaintiffs in fact did need more pages, it will entertain a request at the hearing for a continuance and to allow supplemental briefing," the judge wrote.
Clothing designer Asha Daniels separately sued the singer on Sept. 21, also naming as defendants Big Grrrl Big Touring Inc. Nomura and Gugliotta. Daniels designed the wardrobe for the dancers who would be on Lizzo's 2023 tour. The plaintiff's other causes of action include disability discrimination, illegal retaliatory termination and assault.