Diageo claims Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs has tried to “weaponise public accusations of racism” to enrich himself as the spirit giant responds to the entrepreneur’s allegations of discrimination.
In a court filing rebutting Combs’ allegations, Diageo accused its erstwhile partner of demanding payouts while threatening to go public with claims of racism.
The UK-based distiller’s filing is the latest salvo in a court battle between the company and Combs, which worked together on Cîroc vodka and were partners in DeLeón Tequila.
Diageo and Combs first teamed up in 2007 when he agreed to promote the company’s Cîroc brand. Six years later, the partners bought DeLeon Tequila as a 50-50 joint venture.
Among Combs’ claims are assertions Diageo launched racially insensitive products and intentionally sabotaged the DeLeon Tequila brand. Combs argues DeLeon Tequila was treated differently and given less priority than other celebrity-backed brands because he is Black.
In a submission to a New York court on 28 September, Diageo hit back at Combs’ claims.
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“Mr. Combs has been a partner in name only, demanding for himself the title and benefits of equity ownership, while consistently refusing to take on any of the risks, burdens, and responsibilities that come with being a true equity owner and partner,” the company alleged.
The company claimed that, while Combs has publicly put himself forward as a “champion of diversity”, he had “declined invitations to participate in or financially contribute to Diageo’s significant diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives”.
The Johnnie Walker brand owner also accused Combs had “discouraged Diageo from working with other Black business people and influencers, and demanded that Diageo redirect millions of dollars earmarked to support such causes to him personally”.
One claim centres on an allegation Combs demanded payment from Diageo. Upon hearing the company had committed $100m to help the hospitality sector and “unprivileged communities” recover from Covid-19 in 2021, Combs, the group claims, demanded he be paid $100m – and threatened he would “reach out to every news outlet” to “burn the house down” by making public accusations of racism if the payment was not made. Diageo asserts this is the action Combs has now embarked upon.
Diageo, meanwhile, also alleges Combs reneged on promises to be an equal partner in the DeLeon Tequila venture and contributed only $1,000 to the business. By contrast, Diageo says it has invested more than $100m in the venture.
In a statement sent to Just Drinks, Combs’ attorney John C. Hueston said: “Diageo claims its executives were available to hear all of Mr. Combs concerns about race and diversity issues.
“The sad truth is that they never truly listened to what Mr. Combs was saying and brushed them off as threats and demands for money. If they had actually taken the time to comprehend his concerns and lived up to the agreements they signed, we wouldn’t be in court today.”