Day care workers say they haven’t been paid in a month

Memphis, Tenn. -- WREG has new details about a day care owner with a history of problems.

A second state agency is looking into the owner at Discovery Learning Academy where workers say they haven't been paid in weeks.

The employees also describe working in an environment that`s unsafe for children.

For the second time in two weeks, the News Channel 3 Investigators were able to walk right through the doors at Discovery Learning Academy off Corporate Avenue in the airport area.

When WREG knocked on an office door, the owner, Senese Duhart, motioned for us to come in.

After an introduction, Duhart immediately said, "No comment. "

WREG replied, "We just wanted to ask about the employees not being paid."

News Channel 3 spoke with two employees on camera, without showing their faces because they didn't want to be identified.

One said, "We haven`t gotten a paycheck since October 19."

The worker talked about how they've been taking care of children, but can't even care for their own families.

"You got people, you know, without lights, you got some people, you know, the people threatening to take them to court."

The women shared screenshots from what they say are group, text messages, between Duhart and employees.

Duhart initially blames late reimbursement from the state, then says the money has come through but hasn't posted.

The second worker said, "Quite frankly now, I`m tired of the explanations, the excuses. All of it. It makes no sense."

To make matters worse, workers say one of the last paychecks they got, was no good.

Some have gotten demand letters from Easy Money, a check cashing company, employees say Duhart asked them to use.

WREG asked, "So what`s your choice? Pay these people back, and then ask her to pay you back?"

She replied, "And that ain`t even gonna happen."

The workers turned to WREG after seeing us at the day care trying to ask Duhart questions about problems at her other center, Nurturing Young Minds.

It's been closed recently due to a small fire.

However, state regulators are trying to revoke Duhart's license at Nurturing Young Minds because of so many serious, violations.

She's also facing a civil lawsuit from a 2017 incident where a baby suffered chemical burns after being sprayed with cleaning solution by a worker.

That former employee, and another were indicted for child abuse.

The workers who spoke with WREG described an environment at Discovery Learning Academy that's chaotic and unorganized as relates to everything from child/staff ratios to not having enough food, despite getting funding for that too.

WREG asked one of the workers, "What worries you the most right now, about the way things are run?"

She replied, "The safety of the kids."

Despite Discovery Learning Academy only having been open since earlier this year, the facility has already racked up violations.

Complaints mirror problems regulators repeatedly found at the other center.

News Channel 3 asked, "Are there enough teachers for all the classrooms?"

One worker said, "No ma’am." The worker said children are often shifted from room to room each day, and teachers aren't familiar with the students.

"You have that problem because you try to save money, by not hiring the proper number of people. So that means somebody’s baby is not being looked after," said the other worker.

WREG asked, "Does that worry you at all?"

She said, "It does, cause anything could happen."

The children, though, are the reason the employees said they worked every day, despite not getting paid, but no more.

"I won`t be returning until I see my money," said one worker.

The workers say they were told Monday, they should get paid Wednesday.

WREG reached out to the Tennessee Department of Human Services for comment.

Spokesperson Sky Arnold said the department is aware of the allegations and has forwarded the complaints to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

He also said, "The state has not been late sending payments to Discovery Learning Academy.  The most recent Child Care Certificate payment was processed for payment within four business days of the agency submitting the required attendance verification."

DHS also said it has referred food complaints to the Office of Inspector General, as well as the sponsoring organization that oversees the food program at Discovery Learning Academy.

Arnold said, "If violations of the USDA nutrition standards are found, appropriate action will be taken."

Last week, WREG asked DHS why it allowed Duhart to open Discovery Learning Center while facing so many problems at Nurturing Young Minds.

Arnold said licensing is handled individually and it's against the department's policies to refuse a license, based on violations related to another.

A spokesperson with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development confirms the agency sent an investigator to the day care Monday, after receiving an inquiry from WREG about the payroll problems.