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Diddy sues Diageo alleging racism

Rapper Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs has filed a lawsuit against Diageo for allegedly neglecting their co-owned Tequila brand DeLeón because of his race.

Sean 'Diddy' Combs is embroiled in a lawsuit with Diageo
Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs is embroiled in a lawsuit with Diageo

In a court filing in New York, US, on Wednesday (31 May), lawyers for Combs claimed Diageo and its executives have “put their feet on the neck of Mr Combs’ brands”, stunting production, distribution, and sales of Cîroc Vodka and the high-end Tequila brand DeLeón.

Combs and Diageo announced an equal partnership to buy ‘ultra-premium’ DeLeón Tequila in 2014.

In the court filing, Combs’ lawyers have accused Diageo of failing to support his brands, and of marginalising 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 Cîroc and DeLeón, apparently deciding they are ‘Black brands’ that should be targeted only to ‘urban’ consumers,” the filing claims.

Furthermore, it alleges 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”.

It also claims that Rust admitted race was part of the reason Diageo limited the neighbourhoods where Combs’ brands were distributed. “If Mr Combs were Martha Stewart”, Rust is reported to have said, “things would be different.”

Diageo has denied the allegations and said it would defend itself “vigorously”.

A spokesperson for Diageo said in a statement: “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.”

Diageo and Combs have co-owned DeLeón since 2014

The complaint draws direct comparisons with Diageo’s other Tequila brands, including actor George Clooney’s Tequila brand Casamigos, which the firm bought in 2017 for US$1 billion.

It noted that the DeLeón brand was currently sold in less than 4% of possible outlets compared with more than a third for Casamigos and Don Julio Tequilas.

The filing also alleges that Combs Wines and Spirits plans to seek “billions of dollars in damages due to Diageo’s neglect and breaches” in a separate lawsuit.

Diageo said it was “disappointed our efforts to resolve this business dispute amicably have been ignored and that Mr Combs has chosen to damage a productive and valued partnership.

“For more than 15 years, we’ve had a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with Mr Combs on various business ventures, making significant investments that have resulted in financial success for all involved,” Diageo said.

“While we respect Mr Combs as an artist and entrepreneur, his allegations lack merit, and we are confident the facts will show that he has been treated fairly.”

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