Regional
10:37 am
Mon October 26, 2009

Worker Rights Controversy

Taos – Former Marine Larry Whitten arrived in Taos, N.M, in July to resurrect a failing hotel.

Whitten turned around more than 20 hotels in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina, before moving to Taos from Abilene, Texas.

He forbade Hispanic workers at the Paragon Inn from speaking Spanish in his presence -- he thought they'd be talking about him -- and ordered some to Anglicize their names.

His rules and his firing of several Hispanic employees angered workers.

The New Mexico chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens then sent Whitten a letter. Whitten says he sent the group a letter and posted messages on the hotel marquee, alleging LULAC referred to him with a racial slur. LULAC denies it.

Taos Mayor Darren Cordova says Whitten wasn't doing anything illegal. But he says Whitten failed to better familiarize himself with Taos and its culture.

Whitten grew subdued as the recent Associated Press interview progressed. He said he was sorry for the misunderstanding and insisted he's not against any culture.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.