Diageo has severed its business relationship with Sean “Diddy” Combs after he sued the alcoholic beverage company for billions of dollars in damages, accusing it of racism for not supporting their joint ventures, Cîroc vodka and DeLeón tequila.
In a lawsuit filed in May, Combs’ attorneys claimed that Diageo and its executives limited production, distribution and sales for the brands while other celebrity-backed brands thrived. Diageo execs “put their feet on the neck of Mr. Combs’ brands. In a business where production, distribution, and sales are the pillars of success, Cîroc and DeLeón have been starved of resources for all three,” the lawsuit said, according to Rolling Stone.
Combs claimed Diageo had “typecast” the DeLeón tequila brand, which they co-own, and Cîroc vodka, which they collaborated on, and treated them like “black brands” that should be targeted to “urban” consumers.
Combs also alleged that Diageo executive Stephen Rust “directly acknowledged the company’s racist undertones in 2019,” and told him that some of the company leaders “resented him for making too much money.” The lawsuit also claims that Rust admitted that Combs’ race was “part of the reason Diageo limited the neighborhoods where the Combs brands were distributed.”
Rust told Combs in late 2019 that “if he were Martha Stewart his brands would be more widespread,” Combs alleged.
Responding Tuesday in Manhattan federal court, Diageo said Combs made “false and reckless allegations and accusations of racism about Diageo and some senior executives.” The company wants the court to dismiss the lawsuit, Bloomberg reported.
“Mr. Combs’ bad-faith actions have clearly breached his contracts and left us no choice but to move to dismiss his baseless complaint and end our business relationship. Mr. Combs has repeatedly undermined our partnerships and threatened to publicly defame Diageo if we did not meet his unreasonable financial demands,” a Diageo spokesperson said Tuesday in a statement.
The company claims it invested more than $100 million in DeLeón, while Combs allegedly “contributed a total of $1,000 and refused to honor his commitments.”
Combs earned almost $1 billion through their partnership, Diageo alleged.
In response to Diageo’s Tuesday filing, Combs’ attorney said that the company “attempting to end its deals with Mr. Combs is like firing a whistleblower who calls out racism. It’s a cynical and transparent attempt to distract from multiple allegations of discrimination,” Financial Times reported.
The partnership dates back to 2007 when Diageo hired Combs to promote and market the Cîroc brand. They entered a joint venture to buy DeLeón in 2013.