The CEO of an Arizona company is no longer at the helm after using a racial slur during a disagreement with an Uber driver.
The incident unfolded after Hans Berglund, then-CEO of Tempe fertilizer company Agroplasma, insisted on sitting in the front seat next to the driver when he was picked up January 31 at a Scottsdale home.
Randy Clarke, an Arizona State University student who’s been an Uber driver for four years, asks Berglund instead to sit in the back, video Clarke provided to CNN shows. Clarke, who has two video cameras in his car, hasn’t let lone riders sit next to him since he was groped in 2018 by a drunken client, he said.
Berglund asks again about sitting in front, then, after being rejected, tells Clarke to cancel the ride and says he’ll order another one, according to the video. Clarke agrees, but Berglund curses, slams the door and gets in the back seat.
“Are you f**king serious with me?” Berglund says, the video shows. The passenger tells Clarke he’ll ride in the back and later file a complaint with Uber.
Clarke then asks Berglund to get out of his car, the video shows.
“Is this because I’m white? Berglund asks.
“No, sir,” Clarke says.
Berglund responds, “You’re a f**king n****r.” You’re f**king unbelievable.”
Clarke mentions his dashcams, then Berglund curses again at Clarke before getting out of the car, the video shows.
As Berglund leaves, Clarke says, “Thank you so much. You got it on camera,” the video shows. “Whoo-hoo, this is good. This is perfect.”
The video begins before Clarke stops to pick up Berglund and ends after the two part ways, as Clarke calls Uber to lodge a complaint about the rider.
Berglund’s attorney told CNN of the scene captured on video: “This is extremely out of character for him.”
Berglund “is extremely apologetic and embarrassed and wants to do everything he can to make this as right as he can,” his lawyer, Scott Zwillinger, said.
To Clarke, the episode “just came out of nowhere,” he told CNN. “It was quite shocking. I didn’t expect that.”
Uber officials told CNN that the passenger in the incident no longer has access to the Uber app.
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Clarke had never experienced anything like that, he said, and he didn’t immediately know much about his would-be passenger. He continued driving for the ride-share company that weekend, he said, because he wanted the business.
“We had the big PGA tournament up in Phoenix,” he said, “and I didn’t want to miss that.”
But the exchange stayed on Clarke’s mind, and he decided on Sunday to try to find out more about the rider.
“This man probably does something big in society and employs people of color,” Clarke recalled thinking. “There’s just no way somebody with a business should be acting that way.”
He confirmed Berglund’s identity and sent the video to local news media, which reported the story.
Agroplasma is now investigating and has appointed an interim CEO, it said in a statement.
“In light of the recent incident involving Hans Berglund, Agroplasma is conducting a thorough investigation of our company’s anti-discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity practices, culture and policies,” it reads. “We are a small business that prides itself on providing equal opportunities to all employees and candidates, and we firmly believe Mr. Berglund’s actions are not reflective of who we are as a company or member of the community.
“We are committed to performing a full and honest assessment of the situation and taking the appropriate steps based on the findings of our investigation.”
Berglund apologized earlier this week in a statement to CNN affiliate KNXV, saying, “I deeply regret and apologize for the hurtful and derogatory language I used during the altercation with Mr. Clarke. I firmly believe that there is no excuse for the use of racial slurs under any circumstance, so I will not offer any. It is my sincere hope that Mr. Clarke hears and accepts my apology and believes me when I say it is honest and heartfelt.”
Berglund later told KNXV that he was fired.
“I’m taken away as CEO from the company. I don’t have anything to do with the company anymore. I’m fired,” he told the station. “I founded the company, but I’m gone. I’m history.”
KNXV talked to Berglund outside his home.
“It’s so blown out of proportion, and it’s ruined my life. It’s ruined my company. It ruins everything about my situation right now,” said Berglund.
Civil rights activist Rev. Jarrett Maupin and Clarke’s attorney, David Dow, are asking the Arizona Attorney General’s Office and the city of Tempe, where Agroplasma is based, to investigate possible civil and human rights violations, Maupin told CNN.
Any complaint filed to the state’s top legal department would be confidential, office spokeswoman Katie Conner said. CNN has reached out to Tempe officials.
Maupin also hopes to arrange a meeting with Berglund and the company, he said.