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Founder, CEO of Tempe company relieved of duties after using racist slur with Uber driver

The Jan. 31 incident was caught on video. The company said the incident is not at all reflective of Agroplasma’s values and ethics.

PHOENIX — Tempe-based Agroplasma USA announced Wednesday it has relieved founder and CEO Hans Berglund of his duties after he was caught on video using a racist slur with an Uber driver.

The confrontation came about after the driver asked him to sit in the back seat.

“Is that because I’m white?” Berglund said.

The statement from Agroplasma is below:

In light of the events of this past Friday, Agroplasma CEO Hans Berglund has been relieved of his duties while the company performs a full internal investigation.

The incident is not at all reflective of Agroplasma’s values and ethics. Our relationships with our employees, customers and the community are the cornerstones of our success, and we are doing everything in our power to rebuild their trust and repair the harm that has resulted from this incident.

Jeffrey Ziehmer, who has been serving as Agroplasma’s General Manager, will assume the role of Interim CEO until further notice.

We have no further comment at this time.

Credit: Agroplasma

Berglund, 72, is an immigrant from Sweden and lives in Scottsdale. 

The driver, Arizona State University student Randy Clarke, who is African-American, told Berglund his request had nothing to do with his skin color.

“I don’t like when people sit in the front, I’m sorry,” Clarke said during the Jan. 31 conversation.

Later, Berglund called Clarke the n-word and an idiot before leaving.

“I was in a state of shock, I almost wanted to laugh,” Clarke told 12 News during an interview Monday. 

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Berglund no longer has access to the Uber app.

“Discrimination has no place on the Uber app or anywhere. What’s been described is a clear violation of our Community Guidelines and we launched an investigation as soon as we learned of it,” according to an Uber spokesperson.

“Some people need to be educated about people who don’t look like them. But in this case, the fact that he blatantly said the n-word, I just couldn’t let that go.”

Clarke provided a video of the exchange to 12 News.

During a phone interview, Berglund told 12 News he had been drinking and made a mistake.

“I apologize to the guy. I shouldn’t have said what I said,” Berglund said.

Berglund said he prefers to sit in the front seat when he uses Uber and was taken off-guard when he was asked to sit in the back.

Clarke said last year he was sexually assaulted by a passenger in the front seat and now only allows front-seat passengers with parties of three or more. In fact, there are two stickers on the outside of his car and one on the front seat dashboard stating, “Front seat is reserved for parties of 3 or more.”

“I didn’t see the signs,” Berglund said.

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Clarke was especially frustrated because he said he didn’t have an easy way to log his complaint about the passenger with Uber. He wants the company to provide more user-friendly options for Uber drivers to submit dashcam videos showing bad behavior. He also wants Uber to develop a way to notify passengers ahead of time of specific rules and policies inside their particular vehicle.

“I feel that Uber could do more to prevent these types of situations by implementing features that help us drivers deal with these situations better,” Clarke said.

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