Family Fights 'Ridiculous' Benefit Denial

It was Taneka Talley's greatest wish to see her son head off to college. It was why she took extra shifts at work and set her sights on promotions.

But she was stabbed to death in the Fairfield, Calif., Dollar Tree where she worked in March 2006, by a white man who reportedly attacked her simply because she was black.

Now, Talley's mother is fighting to get her daughter's workers compensation death benefits, which, according to the family's lawyer, have been denied because the killer's targeting her as a black person established a "personal connection" that the company says releases them from having to pay.

"For them to deny her, it's just outrage," Carol Frazier, Talley's mother, told ABCNews.com. "She worked hard for them at their store so her son could have the best."

California law states an employer must pay death benefits if the employee was killed on the job and if the death was a result of the person's employment, said Moira Stagliano of Boxer & Gerson in Oakland, Calif., who is Frazier's attorney.

But the law also allows benefits to be denied if the death stemmed from a personal connection between the victim and the attacker, such as a husband who kills his wife on company grounds.

According to Stagliano, the benefits were denied on the basis that the suspect in Talley's slaying, 45-year-old Tommy Thompson, allegedly made the relationship with Talley personal by choosing to attack her specifically based on the color of her skin.

Thompson and Talley had no previous known interaction with each other.

Dollar Tree did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment. Specialty Risk Services, which is owned by The Hartford Financial Services Group, did not comment on the specific case in a statement issued to ABCNews.com, only saying that the company was Dollar Tree's claim administrator.

In a letter to Stagliano dated Sept. 12, the law firm Gray & Prouty wrote that Talley's stabbing was "purely racially motivated. As such, it is our belief that our denial in this matter is proper."

However, when contacted for comment, a spokesman for Gray & Prouty declined to comment on the case or say whether the firm's client was Dollar Tree, SRS or both.

'Miscarriage of Justice'

The basis for the denial was "ridiculous," said Edgar Romano, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Workers Injury Law and Advocacy Group. "It's a completely implausible reason to deny benefits."

Romano, an attorney in New York City, said that even though workers compensation law varies by state, the common thread is that a death on the job is compensable.

The denial of Talley's benefits, he said, moves away from that foundation.

Romano said that he believes Frazier has a good chance of getting benefits upon appeal, but it's a "miscarriage of justice" that the case has gotten this far.

Talley, 26, was the middle of Frazier's three daughters.

"She was the independent daughter," Frazier said, "the daughter who kept the family together."

Frazier said Talley went into work on the morning of March 29, as she often did to help get the store open in the morning. A short time later, Talley's cousin who worked down the road noticed police surrounding the store.

When the cousin went over to investigate she saw that Talley had been attacked and immediately summoned friends and family.

"She struggled ... to the back to the office and they called the ambulance," Frazier said.

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