Sean “Diddy” Combs is accusing liquor giant Diageo of “unlawful retaliation” after the company ended their business relationship over a lawsuit Diddy filed claiming a “pattern of racial discrimination.” That's according to a new lawsuit filed in the New York Supreme Court on Friday and obtained by The Daily Beast. It’s the latest in a combative series of back-and-forth litigation between the rapper and his former business partners.
In his new suit, Combs says that he is facing “unlawful retaliation by a powerful international corporation” after Diageo announced in June that it was ending a 15-year partnership with him. That decision came after Combs sued the company in May, alleging he had been racially discriminated against, and that Diageo had left his Cîroc Vodka and DeLeón Tequila brands behind in favor of others.
The new suit contains fresh allegations from Combs, including that Diageo has “done all it can to retaliate” against him and his company, including “blackballing Mr. Combs in the spirits industry.”
“Diageo has instructed distributors and retailers of DeLeón not to talk to Mr. Combs about his own brand. Diageo, with its massive power in the industry, is doing everything it can to send a message, not only to Mr. Combs but to others like him: Speak up and you will be punished,” the lawsuit alleges.
In an affidavit filed alongside the new suit, Robert T. Chin, Head of Spirits at Combs Wines and Spirits, said that after filing suit against Diageo in May, Combs was iced out of the marketing process for DeLeón.
“Diageo representatives began cancelling meetings and failing to timely respond to communications written by Combs Wines’ representatives, which was out of the norm," Chin said in his affidavit, “And, for the first time, Diageo took the position that Mr. Combs was not allowed to attend meetings with Diageo about DeLeón.”
A Diageo spokesperson told The Daily Beast: “This is yet another attempt by Mr. Combs to extract funds from Diageo after the organization has invested tens of millions of dollars in the marketing and development of DeLeón, in contrast to Mr. Combs’ total investment of $1,000. We are disappointed that Mr. Combs continues to damage the DeLeón brand while attempting to litigate a business dispute resulting from his own inability to effectively collaborate and sufficiently contribute. These allegations are completely without merit, and we will defend against them.”
In his original suit against the company, Combs said Diageo had “proven unwilling to treat its Black partners equally,” and “treated Mr. Combs and his brands worse than others because he is Black,” according to court documents. Combs said his products had been labelled “Black brands” by the company, and only marketed to “urban customers.”
Combs alleged that Stephen Rust, Diageo’s President of Reserve and New Business, told him in 2019 that Combs’ “race” was the reason the company limited the neighborhoods where the products were sold, and that if Combs were “Martha Stewart” it would be different, according to the suit.
Diageo denied the claims about Rust’s comment in subsequent court filings, calling them “unequivocally false,” and alleging it was in fact Combs would had said “this wouldn’t be happening if I were Martha Stewart.”
Diageo, which owns brands including Guinness, Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky, described Combs’ suit as a “baseless complaint” in a statement to CNN, saying Combs’ “bad-faith actions have clearly breached his contracts and left us no choice but to… end our business relationship.”
In September, the company issued a rebuttal to Combs’ claims in court filings, saying they had “disproportionately supported and grown the DeLeón brand despite Combs Parties’ repeated failures to live up to their own commitments.” Diageo said Combs was focused on “self-enrichment" and had “asked to be paid millions of dollars more under threat of publicly accusing Diageo of racism.”
Lawyers for Combs did not respond to a request for comment.