PONTIAC (AP) – Executives with a bank formed in part to serve people in southeast Michigan with roots in India berated two customers and exchanged email calling Indians derogatory names, according to a lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed March 12 in Oakland County Circuit Court against executives of Lotus Bank, the Detroit Free Press reported, suit argues that the bank violated the civil rights of Jasit Takhar and Anil Gupta by creating a hostile business environment.

Krishna Malempati, chairman of the bank’s board of directors and bank spokesman on the issue, said the bank denies any discrimination. Malempati said the board disciplined executives involved after being made aware of the emails. The executives still are employed by the bank.

“They’re working very hard, and they’ve been coached and trained to work with the community,” Malempati said.

The lawsuit stems from a dispute over a $1.4 million mortgage that Takhar and Gupta obtained from Lotus in 2008 to buy a Travelodge hotel in Jackson.

According to the lawsuit, the men told the bank in the spring of 2010 that business was down, and they likely would have trouble making timely payments. After initially being told they could be up to 90 days behind, they say they were threatened with foreclosure.

“It is absolutely shocking to me that the people at the top would show such disdain for the people they serve,” said attorney Elizabeth Thomson, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Takhar and Gupta.

According to Malempati, the emails were unrelated to the mortgage.

Novi-based Lotus, which has a branch in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, was incorporated in 2007 in part to serve the area’s growing Indian community. Fourteen of its 17 board members are of Indian descent, as are about 30 percent of its customers.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages, as well as measures such as training. It was filed shortly before the bank’s board sent a letter to customers about the issue.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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