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Diageo countersues Diddy

Drinks giant Diageo has filed its own countersuit to Diddy’s allegations of racism with its claim that he would ‘burn the house down’ unless paid US$100m. 

The development follows moves from the musician and entrepreneur’s company Combs Wine and Spirits, which is behind the DeLeón Tequila and Ciroc French vodka brands, and the filing of legal action to New York’s Supreme Court against Diageo.

The original suit claimed racial discrimination by rapper and entrepreneur Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, who previously accused Diageo of wrongly “cloaking itself in the language of diversity and equality”, and claimed that the company had “proven unwilling to treat its Black partners equally— even when explicitly required by contract to do so”.

Earlier this month, Diageo’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed were overruled, meaning Combs will, according to his attorney John Hueston, be able to begin uncovering evidence to support his claim that Diageo failed to support the Ciroc Vodka and DeLéon Tequila brands in the same manner that it support its other brands.

But now Diageo has countersued the rapper, alleging he ‘leveraged’ allegations of racism.

The countersuit from Diageo states: “In May 2021, following Diageo’s public commitment of US$100m to help with Covid recovery for the hospitality sector and underprivileged communities, Mr Combs demanded that Diageo pay him US$100m and threatened then to ‘reach out to every news outlet’ to ‘burn the house down’ and cause maximum damage to Diageo and the DeLeón brand, by making public accusations [of] racism if Diageo refused to write the check.

“At bottom, [Combs Wines and Spirits] baseless allegations are nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to weaponise public accusations of racism in order to line Mr Combs’ pockets even further.”

It also accused Diddy of a lack of commitment to its own diversity and equality agenda, stating: “When invited to join Diageo’s diversity initiatives, including the Pronghorn initiative and providing financial support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Mr Combs declined to participate, and in fact tried to discourage Diageo from working with other African-American business people or influencers on the Pronghorn initiative.”

Through his lawyer, Combs denies the allegations and claims Diageo failed to support DeLéon Tequila compared to the other brands in its portfolio, using the example of distribution of 36% for Don Julio to retail outlets but on 3.3% for DeLéon. In addition, he cited George Clooney’s Casamigos brand, which accounted for around 13% of Tequila sales across the country.

In a statement to db, he said that Diageo “never truly listened to what Mr Combs was saying” when he expressed concerns on race or diversity and instead “brushed them off as threats and demands for money”.

“If they had actually taken the time to comprehend his concerns, and lived up to the agreements they signed, we wouldn’t be in court today,” his lawyer said.

In its latest set of financial results, Diageo noted that DeLéon had performed well and had higher growth rates than either Casamigos or Don Julio. In the filing to court Diageo also added that DeLeón “has received disproportionately favourable treatment and disproportionately greater resources from Diageo, far more than its other Tequila brands.”

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