Posted by: Ophelia | December 4, 2008

Killed at work? Sounds like a personal problem

If the person who came into your workplace decided to kill you for being black.

mn-racial_0499497252Taneka Talley was stabbed to death in March 2006 while she was working as a clerk at a Dollar Tree store in Fairfield. Her killer’s only motive, prosecutors say, is that she was African American. That’s also the reason the store’s workers’ compensation insurer is denying $250,000 in death benefits to Talley’s 11-year-old son.

The boy’s grandmother, the child’s legal guardian, said Specialty Risk Services is taking the position that a racially motivated killing is personal, not work-related – even though the man charged with killing Talley had never met her before. The insurance company, Dollar Tree and their lawyers aren’t talking publicly about the case but are defending their position before a state appeals board that hears workers’ compensation disputes.

The opposition by Dollar Tree and its insurers to paying benefits to Talley’s son represents an attempt to set new limits on California’s workers’ compensation system, under which a company provides benefits to employees or their survivors for work-related deaths or injuries regardless of whether the firm was at fault.

“The doctors testify that Mr. Thompson’s motivation in stabbing Taneka Talley was purely race motivated,” attorney Kelly Hamilton wrote. “As such, it is our belief that our denial in this matter is proper.”

The compensation law doesn’t consider an on-the-job injury to be work-related if the motives were entirely personal – for example, if an estranged lover or spouse comes to the workplace and attacks an employee because of a private grudge.

“Taneka Talley was at work, doing her job, when she was killed,” the lawyer said. “If she had not been in that store, she would not have been available to (the killer), and she would still be alive.

“It’s shocking that Dollar Tree and its insurance carrier are using the alleged racist motivation of a killer as an excuse to get out of paying benefits,” Stagliano said. (San Francisco Chronicle)

So you’re at work and someone enters and assaults you because of a particular prejudice, you are seriously injured or killed as a result–should you/ your family receive benefits because you were injured while you were doing your job, or is the employer off the hook since the injury wasn’t the result of anything inherently job related?

Should companies only have to pay when an employees injury is the result of the company’s fault? However, in this particular case it seems that they want the determination to come down to the motivation of the attacker. So had he first purchased items–would that make a difference? If he decided to rob the store but still killed her because she was black and not because she was an employee, can the firm get out of paying? This line of thinking severely limits the claims that would legitimately require payment. Not only do you have to be at your workplace and working, but any injuries must then have a direct relationship with your employment. So presumably if someone who is not a customer comes in and assaults you in the course of a robbery–you could recover. If say a fight broke out between two non customers in the store and you intervened, would that be recoverable under this logic? After all it wasn’t work related–they weren’t customers, unless they were threatening the merchandise, it was a personal issue.

I can’t say I’m surprised that this company is making an example out of this woman who was murdered at work. One would think the PR for this sort of push would be completely unwanted–dragging a mourning family through the courts while you attempt to justify why you shouldn’t have to pay out a claim when an employee is killed by a stranger at work (it’s reminiscent of Wal-Mart philosophy about workmen’s comp). Let’s change the scenario–if she were a white teen and was killed because the guy didn’t like blondes, do you think this would have more coverage? Do you think they would have paid the claim? Do you think they’d still be arguing that getting murdered at work is just a personal problem?



  1. I just did a post at the CA NOW blog with a link to this story and contact info for Dollar Tree to tell them to do the right thing.

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