Forensic photographer to be paid with “experience” instead of money, court rules

Jun 14, 2022

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Forensic photographer to be paid with “experience” instead of money, court rules

Jun 14, 2022

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Forensic photographer compensation

Forensic photography sounds like one of the most stressful jobs, at least in the area of photography. But federal court recently decided that, in some cases, it’s perfectly fine to do it for free.

A forensic photography trainee filed a lawsuit after she wasn’t paid for any of her work during the six-month course. However, the judge ruled that she, indeed, shouldn’t be paid and that the experience she gained was her compensation.

Brandi McKay applied and was selected to be a part of the Forensics Imaging Internship Program at Miami-Dade county. The program lasts between six and eight months and accepts those with experience in photography. “During those months the intern will learn how to properly photograph evidence at crime scenes, document an autopsy, and use other techniques necessary to properly document crucial finding in the investigation,” the program description reads. It’s also described as “the only internship program that offers intimate, hands-on involvement in forensic and biomedical photography.”

In February 2020, McKay sued Miami-Dade County in a Florida federal court because they denied her pay for any of the work she did at the course. The court granted the County summary judgment, and McKay filed an appeal, taking the case to the Eleventh Circuit. But the County won again. The court ruling reads that McKay’s internship “allowed her to develop skills in forensic photography over a short period of time, imparting a significant benefit to her.”

“The undisputed facts show that McKay learned forensic photography from a highly regarded county program for free and over a six-month period, thereby gaining considerable experience comparable to a four-year degree.”

Still, McKay argues that the County had violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. They failed to compensate her for her work even though she doesn’t fit the definition of a volunteer who works “for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons.” The Eleventh Circuit panel agrees but claims that she was “an intern, not an employee.”

My initial reaction was to stand with the photographer, especially since the program is quite demanding. And as I mentioned, I think that this job itself is pretty stressful. But of course, I wanted to get the facts straight. The application for the program is very easy to find, and it clearly states all the terms of participation. Among other things, it’s clearly noted that this is a non-paying program.

Now, I think that this kind of work needs to be paid even as an intern, but this program simply doesn’t offer it. If you sign up, you automatically agree to terms and conditions. It’s clearly noted that the program doesn’t pay, so I don’t think McKay even had a chance of winning this case. But I’d like to hear what you think and if she should have been paid for her work.

[via PetaPixel]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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6 responses to “Forensic photographer to be paid with “experience” instead of money, court rules”

  1. Christine Avatar
    Christine

    The time to negotiate is before signing the contract.

  2. Steven Bennett Avatar
    Steven Bennett

    While I agree it’s pretty crappy to expect someone to participate in a 6 to 8 month program without getting paid, you need to read the fine print!

  3. bock1965 Avatar
    bock1965

    Well the written agreement was for an unpaid intern so no she should not have been paid. But…i have never liked the whole unpaid intern idea. Internships are generally abusive and in many cases nothing but a form of hazing..

  4. Jake Avatar
    Jake

    Can you please change the title of this article to “intern ignores contract, doesn’t get paid, then sues.”. Thanks.

  5. John Beatty Avatar
    John Beatty

    Just like buyer beware…it goes for internships also. They do it for education/experience…reading is one of them. Next.

  6. D Run Avatar
    D Run

    Well good luck to her getting any job in the field after this. Part of an internship, on top of the experience gained, is usually if you do well there will be something lined up for you after. I doubt anyone there is falling over themselves to make calls or put in a good word for her anywhere.