State park ranger alleges race discrimination

A Kentucky park ranger has sued the state and a former cook at a Barren River Lake State Resort Park restaurant, alleging the cook contaminated food in acts of race discrimination.

Leroy Buckner, 61, of Glasgow claimed in the suit that Roger Bryant II, the cook, shoved food down Bryant's pants, "placing plaintiff's food on Bryant's exposed genitals."

According to the lawsuit, Bryant, who is white, did so "to intentionally continue the hostile workplace environment to which African-Americans were exposed at Barren River State Resort Park."

Only after other employees complained did the parks department take action, firing Bryant two months later, the suit says.

Gil Lawson, a spokesman for the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, which includes the Department of Parks, said Bryant was suspended "within two days of us learning of this matter, and he never returned to the workplace."

The incident occurred in June 2009, according to Bryant's notice of termination, which was attached to the lawsuit. According to the notice, Bryant shoved a piece of lettuce down his pants, telling another worker "it's been a sweaty day," before serving the lettuce to Buckner on a fish sandwich.

Bryant earlier told a waitress that he didn't like Buckner, who formerly was a state trooper, because Buckner once gave him a speeding ticket, the notice says. Witnesses also told state officials that Bryant used racial slurs when talking about Buckner.

Bryant did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

Buckner alleges other acts of racial discrimination were overlooked by the state as well. Those incidents are not elaborated upon in the lawsuit, which says only that they involved "wages, conditions ... and benefits of employment with the commonwealth."

However, Lawson described the alleged discrimination as "a single incident," saying all accusations of discrimination are taken seriously.

"The cabinet and the department dispute the claims made in the lawsuit, and will vigorously defend it," Lawson said.

Buckner has been a state park ranger captain for about five years. There are only two captains in the department.

In 2005, two years after he retired from his previous job as a state trooper, Buckner was honored by Kentucky State Police for having had the longest tenure of any black officer on the force, according to the state police Web site. He served for 29 years.

Buckner received several awards, including one for being wounded in the line of duty. He was shot in the shoulder by a suspected suicidal woman in 1985.

Buckner's attorney, James Morris, said his client's service record made the discrimination all the more egregious.

Morris said Buckner told him the humiliation he has suffered since the incident at the Barren River park restaurant "hurt him worse than when he got shot."