Asha Daniels on Hostile Work Environment Lawsuit Against Lizzo: 'Black Women Deserve Equality' (Exclusive)

Daniels filed her lawsuit against the singer over a month after three dancers sued Lizzo for sexual and racial harassment.

Wardrobe stylist Asha Daniels is speaking out about her lawsuit against Lizzo. Daniels, a professional clothing designer, designed the wardrobe for the dancers who will be on Lizzo's 2023 tour. 

In court docs obtained by ET on Thursday, Daniels is alleging that the singer -- whose real name is Melissa Jefferson -- condones a sexualized, racially charged and illegal work environment. The suit alleges that Lizzo allowed her management team to express racist and fatphobic comments, mock Black women, deny workers medical care and forced Daniels to endure degrading sexual harassment.

Lizzo is not the only one being sued. Her production company, Big Grrrl Big Touring, Inc. (BGBT), wardrobe manager Amanda Nomura, and tour manager Carlina Gugliotta, are also named defendants

Daniels tells ET's Rachel Smith that she was grateful for the opportunity to work with Lizzo when her mentor presented it to her. "I thought, you know, this is an amazing opportunity. I really love Lizzo's message as a Black woman and as a performer, and this is a great opportunity to work with someone whose values are in line with mine," she recalls.

The designer explains that she started by getting a commission to design and produce costumes for Lizzo's dancers. As shared in the lawsuit, Daniels began work on the tour in mid-February 2023, when the "disappointing reality" sunk in as she was allegedly forced to work 20-hour days, often seven days a week, and frequently denied breaks.

"They needed two sets of costumes one-and-a-half weeks before the [first] show of their tour, which was insane, and I was able to make sure that happened with the team I was working with," she shares. "Then they ordered another set of two costumes in a color wave, and from there, I just had a really great relationship with their team [and] her wardrobe manager [Nomura]. I stayed in touch and... I just had a really friendly rapport with her team."

Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Daniels says that Nomura contacted her in January, asking the designer to join the European leg of Lizzo's Special Tour after allegedly firing the previous designer. "This was presented to me as that [Nomura] had to fire her and that she really needed someone who could sew to help her with those costumes," Daniels tells ET, adding that because she made the costumes, it made sense for her to help alter them if they were ruined during the tour. 

The designer alleges that she began seeing red flags as soon as she joined the tour, specifying that she was alarmed by the accommodations made for the dancers, commonly known as Big Gurrls.

"When she showed me where the Big Gurrls were gonna get ready, there were noticeable missing elements -- things that they need. Not only are these women stars in their own right, they're performers, [and] they're athletes. So the things that they needed, they did not have in this room," Daniels claims. 

Daniels' lawsuit claims that she witnessed the dancers, mostly women of color, being forced to change clothes quickly during shows in a tiny changing area with no privacy. "Members of Lizzo's stage crew, primarily white males, would lewdly gawk, sneer, and giggle while watching the dancers rush through their outfit changes," according to the docs filed. 
"Plaintiff expressed concern to Nomura about the utter lack of privacy and necessary accommodations and tools Black female performers would need on tour," the lawsuit claims, before alleging that "Nomura merely laughed at the dancers' poor accommodations, and 'advised' Plaintiff not to alert anyone else about the issue or try to fix the issue. Plaintiff would later learn details that led her to believe this was a setup to humiliate, degrade, alienate, and, in some cases, fire, the Black female performers." 

Daniels alleges that Nomura and the Big Gurrls' caretaker were "kind of laughing," claiming that they were aware that the dancers would be upset about the lack of thoughtful space.

And when Daniels tried to pose solutions, she claims she was "instructed to not say anything and to just let it happen."

Throughout her employment with Lizzo, the lawsuit alleges that Daniels was forced to hear "racist and fatphobic comments from Nomura," while witnessing her "mock both Lizzo and Lizzo's background dancers on multiple occasions. Nomura would allegedly imitate the dancers and Lizzo by doing an offensive stereotypical impression of a Black woman, and would also refer to Black women on the tour as 'dumb,' 'useless,' and 'fat.'"

Daniels claims she was so offended that she complained to Nomura on multiple occasions but was rebuffed.

The lawsuit claims that Daniels and other crew members experienced angry threats of physical harm from Nomura, who would allegedly say that she would "kill a b**ch" and "stab a b**ch" when she couldn't find her medication, adding that Daniels allegedly witnessed Nomura shoving a crew member who had threatened to quit.

"Nomura expressed that she would 'kill a b**ch if it came down to it' if anyone threatened her job," the complaint claims. "Lizzo's management was well aware of this pattern of behavior. Carlina Gugliotta... even requested Plaintiff to record Nomura without her knowledge, which Plaintiff did not do as it was both unethical and possibly unlawful."

Daniels claims she was forced to endure sexual harassment by Lizzo's management, specifically recalling a group text with more than 30 members of the BGBT team that allegedly included "graphic" and "disturbing" images of male genitalia. The documents claim that Lizzo's management "found the image to be comical, further encouraging an unsafe, sexually charged workplace culture."

The suit also alleges that Daniels witnessed Nomura, the crew and Lizzo's management team openly discussing hiring sex workers for lewd acts while on tour in Amsterdam, attending sex shows and buying hard drugs.

Naomi Rahim/WireImage

Daniels says she took her complaints to Gugliotta. "Plaintiff also told Gugliotta that she and her local teams were victims of Nomura's verbal and physical abuse, racist comments, bullying, and withholding of accommodations. Plaintiff explained she believes Nomura's behavior was racially motivated, and stated, 'It's not lost on me that I'm one of the only Black women working behind the scenes and I feel like [Nomura] is treating me like I'm a slave.'"

Daniels alleges that despite her belief that Gugliotta would take the matter to Lizzo, nothing was done, and the toxic work environment continued until Daniels was abruptly fired. The suit claims that Gugliotta apologized, allegedly telling Daniels that everyone knows Nomura is "crazy" but that Nomura would be too hard to replace and that she wanted Daniels fired for lodging her complaints.

In response to the lawsuit, Lizzo's spokesman, Stefan Friedman, told ET: "As Lizzo receives a Humanitarian Award tonight from the Black Music Action Coalition for the incredible charitable work she has done to lift up all people, an ambulance-chasing lawyer tries to sully this honor by recruiting someone to file a bogus, absurd publicity-stunt lawsuit who, wait for it, never actually met or even spoke with Lizzo. We will pay this as much attention as it deserves. None."

Daniels admits that while she's seen Lizzo, she hasn't personally spoken with her, alleging that she was explicitly told "never to interact with" the singer.  

"I questioned that because I'm the designer, I'm here to help with fittings, to help take things in, fix things if they're broken, and any time I do a fitting, I need to see something on a body," she notes. "I was given a slew of reasons, and one that stood out to me the most was [Nomura] told me that Lizzo would be jealous of me," she claims.

Despite never interacting with the singer, Daniels explains that Lizzo is included as a defendant because she is "liable as an agent of the entity for the decisions of the entity itself." 

When asked what she hopes to achieve with her lawsuit, Daniels says that she hopes to start a conversation about the way Black women are treated within the industry.

"As a Black woman in this industry, I've been in toxic work situations -- nothing that compares to this at all -- but something that sticks out to me is, before I decided to go on tour, I almost sent one of my interns to go in [my place]... but when I look back on my 20-something-year-old self, I used to take abuse in the workplace, and I would just keep my head down and keep working," she recalls.

She continues: "And this is something that happens to all of my Black female friends, no matter what the industry is. They're expected to put up with abuse, with being treated less than. In this situation, I'm finally 35, and I'm like, 'I know better. I know this shouldn't go on.'"

"This is for us to start having this conversation that Black women deserve equality, [and] we deserve to be treated well in the workplace," she declares. "We should be able to just be great and work hard and not have to work in an environment where we're going to be sexually harassed, where we're going to be racially discriminated against, where we're going to be abused and have micro-aggressions thrown our way. I want Black women to just be able to be great and work hard and not be treated poorly."

The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. It was filed over a month after three of Lizzo's former dancers -- Arianna Davis, Crystal Williams and Noelle Rodriguez -- filed a lawsuit claiming they faced sexual harassment when they worked for Lizzo, as well as religious and racial harassment, disability discrimination, assault and false imprisonment, among other allegations.

Davis, Williams and Rodriguez are asking the courts for damages, including unpaid wages, loss of earnings, deferred compensation, employment benefits, emotional distress, medical expenses and attorneys' fees.

As for Daniels' lawsuit, it was filed the same day Lizzo is set to receive the Quincy Jones Humanitarian Award presented by the Black Music Action Coalition. The timing was not a coincidence, the attorney for all four plaintiffs, Ron Zambrano, tells ET.

"It was intentional by my team because of the manner [in which] she got the award," Zambrano says. "I'm in [Los Angeles], and it's a small community -- especially within the entertainment industry -- and I learned that it was part of [Lizzo's lawyer] Marty Singer's rehabilitation machine to architect it."

He adds, "When I heard the award, it was [from] another person that worked with Lizzo that I don't represent. The first thing in my head [was] independent of these lawsuits, I'm like, 'What has she done to receive a humanitarian award?' And the second thing, I'm like, 'Oh my god, this has to do with the other thing.'"

"I made some calls, and everyone kind of said, it's unofficially officially what they need to do," he continues. "This is about taking responsibility instead of rehabilitating your image, and if you don't do something about it, you are gonna keep ruining people's lives in your wake. You wanna put blinders on [as if] nothing's wrong and you shouldn't change, or at least, the people you put in charge shouldn't change, that's fine. If you wanna attack me, that's fine. But when another person calls me, and they sit in the chair to my right, it's not my fault. It's her fault."

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

"Everybody's upset at a lawyer until you need one," he quips.

As for Daniels, she says that she was "highly triggered" when Davis, Williams and Rodriguez came forward with their accusations. 

"I'm someone who, when I go through a traumatic experience, I'll repress it. Let me think about something else, let me dive into work and just forget that this happened," she admits.

"And when they came forward, I had all [these] memories of the things that happened to me, and just through this process. The work environment was so blatantly and boldly abusive that I have so much proof of all of this. Actually, talking through all of this with Ron, it's kind of amazing that I have the proof of this," Daniels claims.

She adds, "Because I have worked through a lot of hard situations... I'm really good at putting on a poker face. I want to live in a world where Black women don't have to put on a poker face. Most Black women that I know, know how to be falling apart on the inside and sit here and look you in the eye and hold it together until [they] get home. So, I've had a really tough time with this, but I hope that this can be a human journey [for] me."