By Jordan Valinsky, CNN Business
New York (CNN) — Sean “Diddy” Combs is suing Diageo for racial discrimination, claiming that the spirits company that produces DeLeón — the tequila he co-owns with the company — failed to market DeLeón on par with its other brands, including Don Julio and George Clooney’s Casamigos brands.
In a lawsuit, filed Wednesday, Combs said that Diageo “kneecapped DeLeon’s sales growth for nearly a decade” because the company considered it a “Black” brand and marketed it to only “urban customers.” The suit also alleges that Diageo also neglected marketing for Ciroc, Diddy’s vodka brand he also co-owns with the company.
Tequila sales have grown in the United States in recent years, according to data from Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. However, Combs said that his tequila brand hasn’t benefited from the same growth as Casamigos or other tequilas. He said following Diageo’s 2017 acquisition of Casamigos, the company “effectively abandoned” Diddy’s brands and didn’t give them the same marketing compared to White-owned brands.
“In a business where production, distribution, and sales are the pillars of success, Ciroc and DeLeon have been starved of resources for all three,” the suit said. “While Diageo invested in and expanded its other brands — many of which were acquired after Ciroc and DeLeon — Mr. Combs’ brands were allowed to wither,” it said.
Combs claims a Diageo executive told him that if Combs were Martha Stewart then “his brands would be more widespread.”
Diageo (DEO) denied the allegations, telling CNN in a statement that it will “vigorously defend ourselves in the appropriate forum.”
“For more than 15 years, we’ve had a productive and mutually beneficial relationship with Combs on various business ventures, making significant investments that have resulted in financial success for all involved,” a Diageo spokesperson said. “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.”
Representatives for Diddy declined to comment.
Diageo and Combs have partnered on Ciroc vodka since 2007, and it became an immediate success. In 2013, Combs bought DeLeón and formed a joint venture with Diageo for the high-end tequila.
Combs is seeking an injunction against Diageo to “provide the equal treatment that it has contractually promised,” and he “intends to seek billions of dollars in damages due to Diageo’s neglect and breaches.”
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