The saga between Sean “Diddy” Combs and Diageo continues to unfold.
A previous report from AfroTech noted that spirits brand Diageo was looking to drop Combs after he claimed that the company had been racially profiling the Hip-Hop legend and did not stick to its investment promises.
DeLeón was launched in 2009 to an exclusive Hollywood audience. By 2014, Diddy and Diageo entered a partnership to support and expand the tequila brand beyond its original footprint.
When the lawsuit was filed, Combs presented documentation with redacted sections and asked the court to determine if they violated non-disclosure or non-disparagement agreements he had signed with Diageo.
Based on a press release shared with AfroTech, the courts determined that most of the redacted information could be made public, preserving only the specific numbers related to agave plants, shipments, and cases.
Diageo denies any discriminatory or racial profiling claims, but the latest move from Combs and the June 30 court decision deepens the legal battle between the two parties.
The original argument alleges that after Diageo bought competing tequila brands, Don Julio and Casamigos, less attention and investment was available to DeLeón.
The court filing supports these claims with 2022 data that notes DeLeón was distributed in a mere 3.3% of available market outlets, compared to 36% for Don Julio and 34.4% for Casamigos.
The updated lawsuit documents lay out new details of the alleged discrimination and preferential treatment of other brands.
It was claimed that “Diageo presented Combs with a watermelon-flavored version of the tequila, despite his objections and efforts to educate Diageo about the racial history and connotations relating to watermelon.” Additionally, Diageo allegedly “planned to give all its main tequila ingredient agave to its other tequila brands and allocated none for DeLeon.” It was also said that “sloppy” paperwork led the company to be impounded by the authorities in Mexico. Plus, there were also claims of “erratic” production leading to shortages of the tequila.
Comb’s attorney, John Hueston, doubled down on these claims in which the court filing acknowledges as “egregious.”
“These newly revealed allegations show the legitimacy and seriousness of Mr. Combs’ concerns about Diageo’s systemic mistreatment of the DeLeon brand,” said Hueston. “Rather than treat DeLeon equally, as required by contract, Diageo ignored Mr. Combs’ global appeal and inappropriately pigeonholed his brands as ‘urban.’ The allegations reveal that Diageo’s approach has resulted in repeated mismanagement of production, insufficient distribution, and nonexistent sales support.”
Combs and his team believe that a significant part of these actions are based on Diageo’s portrayal of DeLeón Tequila and CÎROC as brands for Black people.
The lawsuit points out that Diddy’s spirits, CÎROC and DeLeón, continued to be described as “urban brands” within the Diageo portfolio. An internal Diageo presentation described CÎROC as an “urban African American brand tied to one personality.” Additionally, an internal Diageo document characterized Combs and CÎROC as having “strong hip hop associations.”
This alleged characterization is a point the Bad Boy CEO noted via an email statement shared with AfroTech.
“For years, I have written to leaders at Diageo to explain that the problems regarding African American diversity and inclusion are bigger than the company has been willing to acknowledge,” Combs wrote in the email shared with us. “I know what the experience of working with Diageo has been like for me and my team, so I can imagine what African American employees and suppliers have experienced. While our relationship has been financially successful for all stakeholders, we have not made enough progress on including and empowering the African American community Diageo relies on for billions of dollars.”
While Combs and his team are confident in their position and records, Diageo is standing firm that they did not act in a discriminatory way.
Therefore, the company is seeking to end its partnership with Diddy as the only path forward.
“Mr. Combs supported, publicly endorsed for several years, and benefited financially from the success of Ciroc Summer Watermelon. His attempt to recast follow up discussions regarding innovations for DeLeon is, as is his entire suit, disingenuous and self-serving,” a spokesperson from Diageo shared with AfroTech in statement. “It is baffling to us that Mr. Combs is criticizing brand marketing and promotion for Cîroc and DéLeon – the very efforts he led. Under the Cîroc agreement, Mr. Combs was solely responsible for brand marketing, and his personally-owned media agency was the marketing agency of record for DeLeón.”
Editorial Note: This piece was updated on July 6 to reflect a statement from Diageo.