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'Gangnam Style' lifeguards get their jobs back, then resign

December 5, 2012 |  3:13 pm

The summer swim season is long over, but some of the city lifeguards in El Monte fired for spoofing a hugely popular Korean pop video finally got their jobs back -- only to resign immediately.

City officials fired 13 lifeguards and their manager in September, days after they made a video inspired by the global hit "Gangnam Style." Because they were wearing city-issue red swimsuits and the filming occured at the city aquatics center, it was deemed an inappropriate use of city resources.

The spoof, titled "Lifeguard Style," became an Internet hit, getting about 2.5 million views on YouTube. Supporters of the fired lifeguards included Psy, the Korean rapper behind "Gangnam Style."

In mid-October, after launching an investigation into the lifeguards' dismissal and noting the need for a "deeper look at the management" of the city's aquatics center, El Monte Mayor Andre Quintero said he wanted to rehire the employees. In a split vote, the City Council supported his suggestion, intending to give the group of college-age youths a chance to clear their personnel records.

In November, Dayle Keller, interim city manager, and Manuel Carmona, representing El Monte's human resources department, started meeting with individual lifeguards to review their situation. Keller said she was not sure how many of the lifeguards would get their jobs back.

Michael Roa, who lost his lifeguarding job shortly after posting the video spoof, said he told the officials that he was eager to "leave on good terms."

Now, having won the reinstatement that allowed him to officially resign by letter, he notes: "I'm just relieved. Now I can move on and apply for other jobs."

[Updated Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m.:  Former lifeguard Daniel Surmenian, who studied at Cal Poly Pomona, said he talked with Keller two weeks ago. Like Roa, he won reinstatement and chose to resign. He lives with his family in Temple City and is urgently looking for work to match his degree in chemical engineering.

“I hope that the city learned from this,” he said. “But who knows?”

Roa, who has a psychology degree from Loyola Marymount University, is in a master's program at the University of La Verne, studying marital and family therapy. He lives with his parents to cut costs. And since losing his source of income, he has applied for other lifeguard openings and to be a swim instructor at a Gold's Gym.

"We can't lie on our application," he said. When potential "employers figure out we've been fired, no one wants to give us a chance," Roa said.

"Finally, I hope it's over," he said. "Our video was for entertainment. We didn't mean to offend and I hope our reputation is preserved."]


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-- Anh Do