Dash cam footage of the incident shows Hans Berglund, CEO of the organic fertilizer company Agroplasma, approaching the passenger side of the Uber operated by Arizona State University student Randy Clarke.
Mr Clarke, who is black, told local news outlets he has stickers on his car window indicating the front seat is reserved for parties of three or more after he was sexually assaulted by a male passenger in 2018.
The Uber driver can be heard asking Mr Berglund: “Mind sitting in the back?”
The 72-year-old passenger refuses, saying: “No, I don’t like to sit there.”
Mr Berglund begins to use profanities, saying “Are you f***ing serious with me?” and becoming angry as Mr Clarke says “I’ll cancel and refund you.”
“Is it because I’m white?” Mr Berglund says. “And you’re a f***ing n*****. You’re a f***ing idiot.”
Mr Clarke later told an ABC-affiliate in Arizona he was in a state of “shock” after the CEO made the comments, adding: “ I shamelessly felt like laughing because I did not know this was real … It’s not just any word.”
The Uber driver also described difficulty in reporting his complaint about Mr Berglund to Uber, telling the local news outlet 12 News: “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.”
Instances of verbal and physical assault against ride-share employees have been recorded and shared online millions of times in recent years, as well as reported to the companies themselves.
Uber released its first safety report just last year, revealing staggering figures: over 3,000 people were sexually assaulted during Uber rides in 2019 alone, and 42 per cent of those assault cases were reported by the drivers. The report also documented murders and fatal incidents that occurred during Uber rides throughout the year.
Mr Berglund told local news outlets he “didn’t see the signs” on Mr Clarke’s car about sitting in the back and had been drinking at the time of the altercation.
In a formal statement he later issued to ABC15, Mr Berglund said: “I deeply regret and apologise 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."
Uber also said in a statement: “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”, the company said.
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