Between 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. Nov. 2, Universal Orlando valet Steve Barton and some co-workers took their dinner break and walked upstairs to order coffee at Universal CityWalk’s Starbucks. Barton, a former character actor who likes to impersonate famous voices for laughs, decided to order his latte while impersonating Borat Sagdiyev, the fictional Kazakh journalist and alter ego of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. (Barton demonstrated his impression over the phone, and in this reporter’s opinion it wasn’t bad.)
“I would like a venti,” Barton recalls saying in character, referring to the coffee megachain’s supersized beverage. The cashier laughed, Barton says. He took his drink, and he and his colleagues went back to work.
But not everyone found his attempt at humor funny. At least one person within earshot of Barton found his words, delivered with the Borat accent, insensitive. The next day, he was called into a meeting with his employer and suspended pending further investigation. From the disciplinary report, which Barton provided to Orlando Weekly: “`Barton` was using inappropriate language inside `CityWalk` Starbucks while purchasing a drink on duty, in uniform and while other Team Members were present. … When Steve was asked for his order Steve replied by stating can I get a ‘pussy frap.’ At the time Steve stated the above comment there were several Starbucks Team Members that heard the comment and were offended by it.”
When questioned by the assistant parking manager, the report continues, “Steve denied using the above mentioned language but admitted that while placing his order he altered his voice as an Oriental voice or Asian voice. Steve further admitted that he was trying to be funny and that’s why he started to talk or was trying to talk like a Chinese woman would talk. After talking to several witnesses they confirmed the statement and also admitted that if you did not know Steve, that what he was saying could be interpreted as harassment in a sexual and racism way.”
In his response, Barton denied using the word “pussy” and asked forgiveness if he offended anyone. “At no time did I swear or cuss or have any intent to offend anyone,” Barton wrote in his witness statement. “If something I said was misconstrued as such, I sincerely apologize. … I am not a vulgar or foul-language speaking person. I hope this matter can be resolved and put behind! I am going on my 5th year of employment with Universal and would love to continue.” (Barton has worked for six months as a valet, and also works as a food runner inside CityWalk’s NASCAR Cafe. He also worked at the theme park between 1990 and 1994, he says.)
Universal was unmoved by his apology. Even after his colleagues signed a petition asking for him to be reinstated, Barton says he was taken off the schedule. Then, on Nov. 9, Barton was fired. “After further investigating this incident it was determined that Steve’s comments were not only inappropriate and against company policy, it was considered very offensive and it also offended several other Team Members,” Universal’s report says. “Because of Steve’s behavior, comments and poor judgment, Steve’s employment is being terminated effective immediately.”
Universal would not comment for this story.
Barton’s response: “It’s politically correct bullshit.”firstname.lastname@example.org