Family Fights 'Ridiculous' Benefit Denial

Employer denied benefits after woman killed on the job in race-related attack.

ByABC News
November 24, 2008, 3:09 PM

Nov. 25, 2008— -- 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 "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, 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."