MIAMI — Residents of Marianna’s Sunland Center, which houses people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, received $304,466 in back wages after a U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division investigation.

That money went to 163 Sunland Center residents, the Labor Department announced, or over $1,800 per resident.

Sunland is one of the three centers run by the state of Florida-funded Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD). Its stated raison d’etre, according to its website, “is to provide training and support to residents in every aspect of their lives in preparation for good citizenship in their chosen living environments.”

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Job training and employment is part of that. The Labor Department said the agency “holds certificates authorizing special minimum wage rates for workers with disabilities affecting the jobs they perform.”

But, Wage and Hour Division District Director Wildalí De Jesús said, “To participate in the federal special minimum wage program, employers must provide the required counseling and referral opportunities to ensure workers with disabilities have every opportunity to reach their potential.”

Some Sunland Center residents didn’t receive that counseling or the referrals. So, Sunland had to pay them at least federal minimum wage for their hours worked. Also, the Labor Department said, payroll records “did not show amounts paid to employees,” a Fair Labor Standards Act violation.

APD Communications Director Melanie Mowry Etters said in an email to the Miami Herald: “APD is committed to following the Fair Labor Standards Act, and the oversight occurred due to a former Sunland employee failing to deliver Subminimum Wage Training in a timely manner to Sunland residents. The Department of Labor found there were eight out of 44 months where the Sunland employee did not provide the required training.

“APD has implemented safeguards and additional supervision to ensure Subminimum Wage Training is delivered as required. Additional employees are now responsible to ensure the training is conducted. Also, an online training calendar has been developed to notify Sunland trainers of required training 30 days prior to the due date.”

© 2021 Miami Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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