Rapper, producer and entrepreneur Sean “Diddy” Combs sued Diageo Wednesday, saying the spirits company didn’t make promised investments in his vodka and tequila brands and treated them as inferior “urban” products.
The lawsuit, filed with the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, says Diageo North America starved Combs’ Ciroc vodka and DeLeon tequila brands of resources even as it showered attention on other celebrity brands. Diageo bought actor George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila brand for $1 billion in 2017, for example.
Combs, who is Black, said Diageo leadership told him his race was one of the reasons it limited distribution to urban neighborhoods. He was also told that some Diageo leaders resented him for making too much money, according to the lawsuit.
“Cloaking itself in the language of diversity and equality is good for Diageo’s business, but it is a lie,” the lawsuit said. “While Diageo may conspicuously include images of its Black partners in advertising materials and press releases, its words only provide the illusion of inclusion.”
Combs’ relationship with Diageo dates to 2007, when the London-based company — which owns more than 200 brands including Guinness beer and Tanqueray gin — approached Combs about Ciroc.
In a statement, Diageo denied allegations of racism.
“This is a business dispute, and we are saddened that Mr. Combs has chosen to recast this matter as anything other than that,” the company said in a statement. “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.”
In the lawsuit, Combs said he intends to seek billions of dollars in damages in other legal proceedings against Diageo.