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Family Fights ‘Ridiculous’ Benefit Denial

25 November, 2008

Dollar Tree Says No Payout for Murdered Worker Because Crime Was Racially Motivated

By SARAH NETTER
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.

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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.  (Frazier is the mother of Taneka Talley; she has won custody of her grandson)

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. (emphasis mine)

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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.”

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Though Thompson has not been charged with a hate crime, a psychologist reportedly testified, according to Stagliano, that Thompson had set out to kill a black person that morning and Talley was the first he saw.

 

Going to Court

Frazier, stunned by the death of her daughter, set about winning custody of then-8-year-old Larry Olden III, 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.

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She (Stagliano) said SRS sent her a letter offering a “nominal settlement” of less than $5,000, but Stagliano said Talley’s family is fully entitled to the full amount, which could be $250,000 or more.

Under state law, a judge is authorized to mediate the case or send it to trial if an agreement can’t be reached.

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Frazier said that as much as she wants Talley’s death benefits to put in Larry’s college fund, it’s not even so much about the money anymore. For Frazier, it’s about making her daughter’s employer realize that the denial is discriminatory and unfair.

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This story is an extreme example of what is wrong with California’s Workers Compensation system.

The laws were changed in 2004, because insurance companies were able to convince Governor Schwarzenegger and the legislators that they needed to reduce the costs of doing business in California.  Of course, there was, and probably still is, rampant fraud in the system but rather than tackle that problem to save money, insurers were able to set up a system limiting an injured worker’s options and payments.  The adjudication process is painfully slow and the insurers can delay until the worker is willing to take anything to get out of the system.  I have personally talked with  many totally disabled workers who lost everything (homes, cars, possessions) and who barely survive on their disability pensions (“awards” as they are called in the system). 

The case of Taneka Talley is outrageous. They denied Ms. Talley’s son death benefits by twisting the definition of “personal connection” to mean racial difference.  

Think about that – racial difference.  Anytime someone shoots a person of a different race, there is a personal connection.  I guess if someone shot me, I would take it personally, but this is unreal.  Ms. Talley did not know her murderer; she had never met him, never talked to him, and did not provoke him.  She had no personal connection to him – this does not require more than a moment’s thought.

Well, I guess if you are an attorney whose job it is to save money for your employer, you don’t need to think about the meaning of “personal connection.”  If you are clever enough you could drag this case through the system for three years and longer.  

Maybe next time a personal connection could be defined as male-female, or atheist-believer, or rich-poor. Hell, I could go on forever in ways my murderer might be connected to me if his motives were known.

 

Maybe the state of California should reconsider its Workers Comp laws. Maybe they could start looking after people instead of business.

 

If you are a Californian, maybe you could write the governor.

 

read the rest of the story here:

http://abcnews.go.com/US/Story?id=6324068&page=

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