- Last week, Lizzo was sued by her former dancers, who are accusing the singer of weight-shaming and sexual harassment.
- They are also accusing her of disability employment discrimination.
- In 2017, Lizzo invited a man onstage though he trampled me while I was seated in a wheelchair.
Last week, as I scrolled through my Twitter feed, I came across the news that Lizzo had been sued by her former dancers, who accused her of fostering a hostile work environment. Most of the news stories focused on the dancers’ claims that they were weight shamed and sexually harassed.
What seems to have gotten lost in the salacious reporting about strip clubs, bananas, and religious extremism is that one of the former dancers is accusing Lizzo of disability employment discrimination.
I can only imagine the barriers disabled dancers like Arianna Davis face in the entertainment industry. Davis has an eye condition and says in the lawsuit she recorded performance notes to refer back to due to her disability. The lawsuit alleges that Lizzo was furious that someone had recorded the meeting. When Davis said she explained her condition to Lizzo, she said Lizzo responded, “There’s nothing you can say to make me believe you.” Davis said she was fired, prompting her to file a lawsuit.
Under the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, a disabled employee recording performance notes due to their disability may be classified as a reasonable accommodation an employer can make since it doesn’t cause the employer an “undue burden” since it’s cost-free.
Ironically, this news story broke a little over a week after the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law barring employment discrimination against disabled people.
I’m a disabled Black woman and have long admired Lizzo’s music and what she represents as an artist.
Nonetheless, the allegations against her did not surprise me.
I was trampled at a Lizzo concert
In 2017, before Lizzo became the megastar she is today, I attended her concert at the iconic 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. I had become an instant fan after hearing her song “Good as Hell,” and loved her body-positive messaging. Along with my friends, I rolled my motorized wheelchair to the front of the standing-room-only venue near the edge of the stage.
During her live performances, Lizzo has been known to invite audience members onstage to sing, dance, and twerk with her. At this particular show, one of her fans caught the singer’s attention by sticking their large, platform heel in the air. The fan then proceeded to step on my legs while I was seated in my wheelchair in order to hoist themselves onto the stage. Lizzo’s dancers noticed what was happening and pulled them off of me.
They still led the fan to the stage, and Lizzo handed them the mic.
My friends and I were shaken. When I aired my frustrations to the venue, their response felt dismissive. They said that I should have called ahead to let them know a wheelchair user was attending the show.
I decided to take to Twitter to share my story. I wrote about how it feels to be disabled at a concert. In public spaces, you’re often treated like you’re invisible and seen as less than human.
To my surprise, other attendees tweeted about how they watched me get trampled at the concert. #DisabilityTwitter organized to ask Lizzo and her team for answers. She acknowledged the incident in tweets saying she heard someone “felt mistreated” at one of her shows and DMed me claiming she didn’t see the incident. She also noted that her dancers did pull the fan off of me. Lizzo told me she opposed ableism and wanted to meet me in person the next time she was in D.C. But, when that time came, I reached out to her, yet she never followed through.
(Editor’s Note: A representative for Lizzo did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on this story. In an Instagram post last week, Lizzo called the dancers’ allegations in the lawsuit “outrageous” and “false.”)
Nevertheless, this experience didn’t stop me from defending Lizzo as an artist from unwarranted attacks online. She has been body shamed and faced racist attacks from a society that resists accepting women who look like her as pop stars and symbols of beauty. As a Black woman, I am protective of women who look like me who are victims of public misogynoir.
But what happens when you’re Black and disabled?
Employment discrimination is a systemic problem
There is often an unspoken expectation that you must choose racial solidarity over your disability identity. This pressure has often forced me to face some difficult internal conflicts.
This current lawsuit isn’t the first time Lizzo has been accused of ableism. Last year, Lizzo and Beyoncé were criticized for using an ableist slur in their songs. They promptly responded with remorse and changed the lyrics. Because of their swift action, I spoke in their defense.
The white disabled community often leads public dialogue on ableist slurs, often to the exclusion of Black disabled voices. Their biases tend to target Black women musicians, but white artists who use ableist slurs in their music rarely face the same scrutiny.
This lawsuit, however, feels different.
If the allegations detailed in this lawsuit are found to be true, I cannot be silent. These dancers’ stories are my story. I, along with millions of other disabled people, have also been on the receiving end of employment discrimination.
Our disabled community faces some of the highest unemployment rates while representing the largest minority group in America. A disabled person is three times less likely to be employed than a non-disabled person, and one in three disabled workers have experienced employment discrimination.
In my experiences in the workforce, I’ve been told I don’t belong and that no one will ever hire me. I was once even asked if my disability was cognitive, despite having a successful career writing for major media outlets.
I’ve seen my disabled colleagues fired because their accommodations are unfairly seen as a burden. My overqualified and educated disabled friends spend years unemployed or underpaid as it’s still legal to pay disabled people below minimum wage in America.
An opportunity to listen and learn
Throughout my two decades living with chronic illness, music has become a tool to tell my story of finding positivity in my Black disabled body. I even incorporated Beyoncé’s song lyrics while writing a disability hiring guide.
Recently, I tried to attend Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour, but discovered that my local venue chose not to sell accessible tickets in advance, rather asking fans who may have mobility issues to buy regular tickets and relocate to an ADA area once they reached the venue. As I shared my story online, I found that many people from the disabled BeyHive faced similar problems with accessibility. We started the #BeyIncluded hashtag to change how we hold facilities accountable for not being inclusive.
Music moves my soul and has given me confidence. Yet people like me can barely gain access to concert venues without being excluded due to accessibility or being physically harmed.
If I feel unwelcome at a concert, I cannot imagine how it must feel to work within the entertainment industry as a disabled woman.
I also hold a lot of sympathy for Lizzo. As a fat, Black woman, she will always be held to a higher standard than other women in music. This lawsuit against her is no excuse to express sexist, racist, or sizeist rhetoric. It is possible to critique someone’s actions without further perpetuating the same discrimination she is being accused of.
While this lawsuit is still ongoing, I will reserve my judgment. But I hope this larger conversation becomes an opportunity for people to learn what ableism is and advocate for the disabled community in the entertainment industry and beyond.