Feds sue hotels for treatment of minority workers in New Mexico, Texas, South Carolina

A federal agency is accusing a hotel chain of breaking the law by subjecting minority employees in New Mexico, Texas and South Carolina to a hostile work environment and firing those who complained.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Friday that it had filed suit against four Whitten Inn hotels and is seeking back pay, lost benefits and damages for workers.

Federal officials say employees endured racial slurs and derogatory comments.

Businessman Larry Whitten created a firestorm in 2009 when workers at his Taos hotel say they were forbidden to speak Spanish and told to change their Spanish first names.

A receptionist at the Taos inn said Sunday that Whitten was no longer the owner.

Representatives at an Abilene, Texas, Whitten Inn declined to comment when reached by telephone.