Diddy Sues British Spirits Company Diageo for Racial Discrimination

“If Mr. Combs were ‘Martha Stewart’ things would be different,” Combs Wines claims a Diageo executive said of the rapper’s tequila brand DeLeón

Sean "Diddy" Combs
Sean "Diddy" Combs (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Businessman and hip-hop artist Diddy has filed a lawsuit against British alcoholic beverage company Diageo, claiming it racially discriminated against and neglected his tequila brand DeLeón. 

In a legal document that the New York Supreme Court received on Wednesday, Diddy and his Combs Wines called out Diageo for allegedly prioritizing other alcoholic beverage brands, like George Clooney’s Casamigos, which it purchased in 2017 for $1 billion. In 2013, Diddy and Diageo purchased DeLeón as part of a joint venture. 

“As Combs Wines and Sean Combs have experienced first-hand, Diageo, by and through its parent company’s Chief Executive Office Ivan Menezes, has proven unwilling to treat its Black partners equally — even when explicitly required by contracted to do so,” the filing reads. 

Combs and Combs Wines goes on to say that Diageo’s public statements about diversity and inclusion are cloaked in a “lie.”

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

The suit also claimed Diageo president Stephen Rust has known about and “directly acknowledged the company’s racist undertones in 2019,” saying he told Combs some people on Diageo’s leadership team resented Combs over his wealth. 

“[Rust] 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.”

In addition, Combs accuses Diageo of neglecting and poorly managing DeLeón’s product stock, distribution and its production of the agave the beverage uses. And the numbers in sales may provide clarity. Casamigos reported a 95.6% sales increase to 2.2 million cases in 2021. Casamigos is now the top-selling tequila brand, representing 12.6% of tequila sales in the U.S., according to Nielsen data by the consulting firm Bump Williams, The Wall Street Journal reports. Don Julio represents 12.1% and is the No. 3 tequila brand, while DeLeón makes up only 0.4% and sits in the 28th rank. 

In a statement sent to TheWrap, Diageo said it is “saddened” Combs has recast the matter, pushing its commitment to diversity. 

“This is a business dispute, and we are saddened that Mr. Combs has chosen to recast this matter as anything other than that,” Diageo’s statement reads. “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. 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. We are 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. 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.”

Combs is now looking to get a court injunction that would force Diageo to uphold the two companies’ 2013 joint agreement.