When more than a dozen lifeguards at an El Monte city pool put their own twist on a popular Internet meme – posting a YouTube spoof of Korean pop star PSY's "Gangnam Style" video – they thought it was all in jest.
In fact, they thought it might be a nice way to let friends know about their summer fun working at the aquatic center in the San Gabriel Valley suburb.
Instead, they were fired.
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Former employees of the El Monte Aquatic Center say they were let go Wednesday after they appeared in the video, which its makers said was filmed while lifeguards were off-duty and off the clock at the popular pool facility.
"They just said the entire video was inappropriate and disgusting," said Gabriel Gonzalez, a lifeguard supervisor who was one of 14 staffers fired.
Alexander Huerta, who said he's worked as an instructor guard at the year-round indoor-outdoor pool for seven years, emailed NBC4 about the firings.
"I strongly believe that the termination … was unjust, over exaggerated, and could have been handled more effectively," Huerta wrote.
When NBC4 asked about the incident, the city issued a statement through a public relations firm.
El Monte said it could not comment specifically on the termination of 13 lifeguards and one pool manager who were "either part-time or seasonal at-will employees."
But the city noted that all of the employees had signed an acknowledgement upon their hiring that stated they would not use city property for "private use or benefit."
"There was a clear unauthorized use of city resources and property, including the use of city-issued uniforms during the making of this unauthorized video. The City maintains that it holds all employees to a higher standard," the statement from El Monte read.
Lifeguard Supervisor Daniel Surmenian, who was fired, said the city provided little detail on its concerns about the video.
"They actually didn't elaborate why the thought it was offensive, they just said it was," Surmenian said. "So I'm assuming maybe that's why -- some of the dance moves."
Huerta said the video was not meant to paint the city in a poor light.
"The video was never intended to cause harm or hurt the reputation of the El Monte Aquatic Center. It was simply a fun video project that was taken on by some of the staff to share with friends of our great summer," Huerta wrote.
He added that many of the employees had their first jobs at the nine-year-old aquatic center, and most were college students using their income to pay for tuition and books.
The video was uploaded to YouTube on Aug. 26, joining the hundreds of tributes to the dance tune from singer Park Jae Sung, who goes by his stage name, PSY.
In the original video, released in mid-July, PSY can be seen performing a comic dance move that's become a signature: the "horse-riding dance," in which he mimics the posture used by equestrians on horseback.
That repeated move and other elements of the original video were performed virtually scene-for-scene by red swimsuit-clad El Monte lifeguards at the pool.
"ALL OF THESE LIFEGUARDS WERE FIRED FOR BEING IN THIS VIDEO," reads a caption on the YouTube video. "All footage was recorded off the clock during breaks and free time."
The video was placed in YouTube's "comedy" category.