© Combs Global, Sean 'Diddy' Combs
Unredacted details from a filing to the New York Supreme Court have accused Diageo of “mismanagement” and “unfair treatment” of musician Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs.
Combs’ lawsuit against Diageo was filed in May, however, many details were redacted at the time. The court determined on 30 June that the vast majority of the redacted material could be made public.
Among the new allegations made public on 5 July, Diageo is alleged to have previously presented Combs with a watermelon-flavoured version of the DeLeón tequila, despite his “objections and efforts to educate Diageo about the racial history and connotations relating to watermelon”.
Responding to the allegation filed in a document to the New York Supreme Court, Diageo told FoodBev: “Combs supported, publicly endorsed for several years and benefited financially from the success of Cîroc Summer Watermelon. His attempt to recast follow-up discussions regarding innovations for DeLeón is, as is his entire suit, disingenuous and self-serving.”
The news follows Diageo’s decision to end its business relationship with Combs after he accused the drinks giant of racism in an ongoing US lawsuit.
Cîroc and DeLeón continued to be described as “urban brands” within the Diageo portfolio, according to the allegations. An internal Diageo presentation described Cîroc as an “urban African American brand tied to one personality,” while an internal Diageo document was said to have characterised Combs and Cîroc as having “strong hip hop associations”.
Diageo allegedly proposed downplaying Cîroc’s connection to Combs “with the goal of rolling back” its “image of being an African-American brand”.
The court filing also alleged that Diageo had planned to give all its agave – the main ingredient used to make tequila – to its other tequila brands, forcing DeLeon to seek out alternative suppliers at the more expensive end of the market.
The filing said: “While Diageo may conspicuously include images of its black partners in advertising materials and press releases, its words only provide the illusion of inclusion. As Combs Wines and Sean Combs have experienced first-hand, Diageo, by and through its parent company’s chief executive officer Ivan Menezes, has proven unwilling to treat its black partners equally – even when explicitly required by contract to do so.”
Ivan Menezes passed away at the beginning of June.
The filing also showed the contents of an email Combs sent in April 2022 to Diageo North America’s then-president and current CEO Deborah Crew: “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”.
He continued: “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.”
Combs stated in the filing that Diageo agreed to certain terms to ensure his brands “were not ignored or relegated to second-class status, but instead treated equally”.
He stated that an agreement made between Combs Wines and Diageo as part of a joint venture in 2021, contains an “equal treatment” provision to ensure that Diageo could not “treat other brands better” than it treated Combs’ brands.
Diageo’s president of reserve and new business, Stephen Rust, reportedly told Combs in 2019, that individuals within Diageo’s leadership resented him for making too much money.
In its own court filings, Diageo claimed that Combs resorted to “false and reckless” allegations in an effort to extract financial damages. In addition, Diageo says it had accelerated production of DeLeon and that sales had doubled since the 2021 agreement.
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