Music producer and rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs is suing spirits company Diageo, accusing it of neglecting their business agreement and failing to invest in his liquor brands because he is Black.
The complaint, filed Wednesday with the New York Supreme Court, said that while Diageo publicly promotes itself as a leader on diversity, Combs and his company found it unwilling to treat its Black partners equally.
Combs said Diageo "kneecapped" his Ciroc Vodka and DeLeon Tequila brands by depriving them of resources after they were "typecasted" as "Black brands" meant only for "urban" consumers.
Diageo and its executives "put their feet on the neck of Mr. Combs' brands," the suit said.
"In a business where production, distribution, and sales are the pillars of success, Ciroc and DeLeon have been starved of resources for all three."
In a statement emailed to AFP, Diageo denied the allegations, describing its 15-year partnership with Combs as "productive and mutually beneficial."
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"This is a business dispute, and we are saddened that Mr. Combs has chosen to recast this matter as anything other than that," a spokesperson said.
"Our steadfast commitment to diversity within our company and the communities we serve is something we take very seriously. We categorically deny the allegations that have been made and will vigorously defend ourselves in the appropriate forum."
The suit also claimed the UK-based drinks giant devoted more attention and offered better support to other celebrity-backed competing brands, such as George Clooney's Casamigos and Ryan Reynold's Aviation Gin, while failing to meet its promises for investments in Combs Wines and Spirits.
"Diageo has treated Mr. Combs and his brands worse than others because he is Black," the suit said, adding that one of the company's managers "directly acknowledged the company's racist undertones in 2019."
According to the suit, the manager told Combs that "race was part of the reason Diageo limited the neighborhoods where the Combs brands were distributed," and that if he were "Martha Stewart" things would be different.
Combs, a Grammy-winning rapper who has gone by the stage names Puff Daddy, P Diddy and Diddy, said in the complaint he intends to seek billions of dollars in damages in other legal proceedings against Diageo.
Diageo said in its statement it was "disappointed our efforts to resolve this business dispute amicably have been ignored."
"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."