Three months after MTA bus driver Tommy Lau was praised by his employer for saving an elderly couple from a mugging during his lunch break, the worker says he's behind on rent because he hasn't been paid since he got injured.
"I’m a month late on my rent," Lau told NBC New York on Wednesday. It's not where Lau expected to find himself after being hailed as a hero back in March.
He was among the good Samaritans who stepped in when a suspect approached a couple in Gravesend, tried to intimidate them and yanked shopping bags from their arms. That suspect punched Lau and spat on him after he got involved.
"I was gonna let him have it but before I could even reach out to him he struck me with his right hand to my left temple, really hard," Lau said. Since then, he hasn't been back to work and he says he has been getting fainting spells. To make matters worse, he says tthe MTA has denied him workers' compensation.
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"I stand up for a fellow human being who was being mugged. They praised me, 'I’m a hero...I’m a hero for transit,' but now, I’m feeling like I’m being neglected," Lau said.
The transit agency said it applauds the bus operator for doing the right thing and showing "the best of New York" but it explained that Lau isn't eligible for benefits because he wasn't injured as a part of his job.
In a statement, an MTA spokesperson said: “The MTA is required to follow State law when making decisions on workers compensation. Those who believe the law falls short in covering this case can and should lobby the NY legislature to change it.”
Lau says he will fight the MTA's decision and his workers union says they won't stop until Lau, who has been driving for 22 years, gets paid.
Employment attorney, Felicia Ennis, who is not involved in the case, says there's a chance that Lau could win on appeal.
"Whether or not the law sees that as something done in the furtherance of your employment is really an issue of fact," Ennis said. "Obviously we want to see our good samaritans rewarded in New York and not condemned. Though we’re hopeful the appellate court will see things differently than the lower court did."
The MTA added that Lau could use his other benefits like sick days and paid time off, but JP Patafio of TWU Local says the employer is sending the wrong message.
"It’s disgusting. It disgusts all of us," Patafio said. "What kind of message does that send to his coworkers? What kind of message does it send to New Yorkers if someone’s being beaten up turn away?"