WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 1999 -- The Justice Department has filed suit against the Adam's Mark hotel chain, charging racial discrimination, the first such suit against an entire hotel chain.

Investigators said the St. Louis-based company maintained a corporate strategy of minimizing the number of black guests in its properties by charging them higher rates for inferior rooms while restricting their access to services freely provided to other guests.

"More than 30 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the sad fact is that some Americans are still treated differently because of their race," Attorney General Janet Reno said at a news conference.

The Justice Department investigation was triggered by a class action suit filed by five African-Americans who were guests of the Daytona Beach Adam's Mark during the Black College Reunion last April.

The suit said the hotel charged black guests higher rates, required them to wear orange wrist bands and prohibited black visitors.

The suit also charged that rooms rented to blacks had been "stripped down" and lacked such basic amenities as telephones and maid service; pictures had been removed from the walls and room mini-bars were locked.

Earlier class-action suits against Adam's Mark hotels in Indianapolis, Memphis and St. Louis have resulted in multimillion-dollar awards.

The state of Florida has also joined the class action suit as an intervenor and said it could fine the chain up to $10,000 for each instance of racial discrimination.