Dollar Tree Agrees to Pay Previously Denied Benefits in Hate Crime Death

Three weeks after a slain woman's family went public with her employer's refusal to pay out death benefits because she was killed in a racially motivated attack on the job, the company offered a settlement to the woman's son.

In a statement e-mailed to, Dollar Tree's vice president of investor relations, Tim Reid, did not detail why the company reversed its decision to deny death benefits to Taneka Talley's family, but said that Dollar Tree had offered the full worker's compensation benefit permitted by California law.

"While we were advised that the claim would not be covered under the state worker's compensation law," Reid wrote, "we feel this is the right thing to do for Taneka's son."

Talley 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.

While Talley's mother is thrilled this fight is nearing an end, her lawyer says Dollar Tree didn't offer the full amount.

"We're pretty close and I believe we're going to settle it," said Moira Stagliano of Boxer & Gerson in Oakland, Calif.

Stagliano was hired by Carol Frazier, Talley's mother, after Frazier was told she was being denied her daughter's death benefits she was hoping to use to send Talley's son to college.

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.

Frazier told the settlement offer was "very good news" and that she's thankful for everyone who has fought on her behalf.

"It wasn't right from the beginning," she said. "It really tore me and it bothered me a lot."

Talley's son, Larry Olden III, now 11, doesn't understand all the details of his grandmother's fight for his mother's benefits.

"I just know he misses his mom," she said.

Stagliano said that in offering the settlement, Dollar Tree asked that she not discuss specific dollar amounts with the media, but said the extra money she's hoping to recover for Frazier is "not insurmountable."

Stagliano said she got a letter offering the settlement last week.

"I can only assume it's the media pressure because they are continuing to say they don't believe it's work-related," she said.

Reid did not immediately respond to messages today seeking further comment on the settlement.

Stagliano told last month that Talley's death benefits were denied because the killer's targeting her as a black person established a "personal connection" that the company claimed releases them from having to pay.

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, Stagliano said.

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.

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."

'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.

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.

By the time Frazier made it to the hospital Talley was dead from a stab wound to the heart.

Going to Court

Frazier, stunned by the death of her daughter, set about winning custody of then-8-year-old Larry, fighting his father along the way. Then she started the process to collect Talley's death benefits to use for Larry's college education.

The quest has dragged on for more than two years. After filling out mounds of paperwork and finally being able to prove to the workers compensation board that she was Larry's guardian and, therefore, eligible to receive Talley's death benefits, a judge suggested she get a lawyer -- her claim had been denied.

Frazier said Larry, now in sixth grade, asks about his mother "all the time." He loves sports and runs track, but also has an interest in business and math.

"He's a good little kid," Frazier said.