Court unseals Diddy’s racial discrimination lawsuit against Diageo

06 July, 2023

Newly unredacted documents have shed light on US rapper Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs claims of racial discrimination against drinks giant Diageo.

A new, unredacted version of the lawsuit filed, reveals Combs claimed Diageo regularly referred to Ciroc and DeLeon as “urban brands,” and developed a watermelon-flavored version of DeLeon over his objections.

Combs has worked with Diageo for several years, mostly representing Ciroc vodka before agreeing a 50/50 deal to buy tequila brand DeLeon in 2014.

When Combs filed the lawsuit back in May, it said the rapper and his representatives are seeking “billions of dollars in damages due to Diageo’s neglect and breaches”.

“In public, Diageo – a multi-billion dollar, publicly-traded spirits company – proclaims itself a leader in diversity and inclusion,” the filing began. “Unwilling to treat its Black partners equally – even when explicitly required by contract to do so”.

The filing also said: “Rather than equal treatment, Diageo has treated Mr Combs and his brands worse than others because he is Black. Diageo has typecast Ciroc and DeLeon, apparently deciding they are ‘Black brands’ that should be targeted only to ‘urban’ consumers.

In a statement, a Diageo spokesperson said: “This is a business dispute, and we are saddened that Mr Combs has chosen to recast this matter as anything other than that.

“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.”

Now, after New York State Supreme Court Judge Joel Cohen ruled that Diageo could only keep portions of the lawsuit secret, specific details have come to light.

Among these details, obtained by Rolling Stone, Combs also claimed Diageo “proposed downplaying” his connection to Ciroc, “with the goal of rolling back its ‘image of being an African-American brand.’” 

The original lawsuit also claimed that Combs would flag “specific examples of matters that were racially insensitive, Diageo ignored him and, worse, repeated the same racially-charged example.” 

The example given, which was originally redacted, looked at the alleged process around launching Ciroc’s watermelon flavour, as per the lawsuit, Combs told Diageo it needed to be “careful about ‘watermelon’ with a brand that it consistently characterised as an ‘urban African American brand.’”

Combs also said Diageo gave him “assurances” that it would be cautious so he signed off on the new flavour. However, Combs said this was ignored and “DeLeon should not launch any flavour until the public had learned more about the brand.”

Combs claimed: “Diageo showed up in person to Mr. Combs and his team with a developed watermelon-flavoured DeLeon Tequila. They did this despite DeLeon not having flavoured tequila, Mr. Combs’ consistent objection to adding flavours, and the efforts to educate Diageo about the racial history and connotations relating to watermelon.”

In a statement provided to Rolling Stone, a Diageo spokesperson said, “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.

"It is baffling to us that Mr. Combs is criticising brand marketing and promotion for Ciroc and DeLeon — the very efforts he led. Under the Ciroc agreement, Mr. Combs was solely responsible for brand marketing, and his personally-owned media agency was the marketing agency of record for DeLeon,” the spokesperson added.

Digital Edition

Drinks International digital edition is available ahead of the printed magazine. Don’t miss out, make sure you subscribe today to access the digital edition and all archived editions of Drinks International as part of your subscription.


La'Mel Clarke

Service isn’t servitude: the skill of hosting

La’Mel Clarke, front of house at London’s Seed Library, looks at the forgotten art of hosting and why it deserves the same respect as bartending.