Sean “Diddy” Combs Accuses Diageo of Neglect, Racism, and Sabotage in DeLeon Tequila Joint Venture

Today (May 31), Sean “Diddy” Combs filed a lawsuit against Diageo, the multi-million-dollar spirits conglomerate and his partner for DeLeón Tequila.

via: The Guardian

In a court filing on Wednesday, lawyers for Combs say Diageo and its executives have “put their feet on the neck of Mr Combs’ brands”, choking off production, distribution and sales of Combs Wines and Spirits brands, including Ciroc vodka and the high-end tequila brand DeLeon.

Combs’s lawyers are seeking a court order “to provide the equal treatment” they say Diageo “contractually promised”. The filing states that Combs Wines and Spirits plans to seek “billions of dollars in damages due to Diageo’s neglect and breaches” in a separate lawsuit.

“In public, Diageo – a multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded spirits company – proclaims itself a leader in diversity and inclusion,” the filing, in New York supreme court, begins.

But that claim “is a lie”, Coombs lawyers claim, alleging the company has been “unwilling to treat its Black partners equally – even when explicitly required by contract to do so”.

Combs, who has gone by the names Puff Daddy, P Diddy and Diddy, has had a long and successful venture with Diageo in promoting its Ciroc vodka brand. In 2014, he announced a 50/50 partnership with Diageo to buy DeLeon, an “ultra premium” tequila. The brand’s most expensive offerings can cost close to $1,000.

In the court filing, Combs’ lawyers accuse Diageo of failing to support the brands, and of marginalizing their appeal by marketing them as “Black brands”.

“Rather than equal treatment, Diageo has treated Mr Combs and his brands worse than others because he is Black. Diageo has typecast Ciroc and DeLeon, apparently deciding they are ‘Black brands’ that should be targeted only to ‘urban’ consumers,” the filings claim.

The filings claim Diageo’s president of reserve and new business, Stephen Rust, directly acknowledged the company’s racist undertones in 2019, telling Combs “some within Diageo’s leadership resented him for making too much money”.

“He also admitted that Mr Combs’ race was part of the reason Diageo limited the neighborhoods where the Combs brands were distributed. If Mr Combs were ‘Martha Stewart’, Mr Rust said, things would be different.”

Diageo bought two other tequila brands after the DeLeon deal – Don Julio and Casamigos, the spirit company co-founded by the actor George Clooney. Combs’s suit claims the company has “effectively abandoned DeLeon”. Instead, its focus has allegedly been on Casamigos, Aviation Gin (owned by the actor Ryan Reynolds), and Ketel One vodka.

The neglect led to poor design decisions that damaged the brands and shortages, the filling claims.

In a statement, a Diageo spokesperson said: “This is a business dispute, and we are saddened that Mr Combs has chosen to recast this matter as anything other than that.

“Our steadfast commitment to diversity within our company and the communities we serve is something we take very seriously. We categorically deny the allegations that have been made and will vigorously defend ourselves in the appropriate forum.”

The fallout is a far cry from the party spirit in which Combs announced his original deal.

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