Lifeguards Fired for 'Gangnam Style' Parody

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on September 12, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

14 California lifeguards were fired from the city's aquatic center for a parody video they made of the popular 'Gangnam Style' music video.

Several lifeguards in El Monte, CA participated in the video but others were fired just for being in the background while it was shot. The pool manager was also fired even though he doesn't appear in the video.

The city was upset that the lifeguards used the public facility as the background and that they're wearing their uniforms in the video. But instead of issuing a warning or asking them to take it down, all the lifeguards lost their jobs.

Since the story hit the news there's been public outcry at the unfairness of the situation, reports the Los Angeles Times. But being unfair and being illegal aren't always the same thing.

The city claims it fired the lifeguards for violating their 'uniform policy' but technically they don't need a reason.

California is an at-will employment state meaning that an employee can be fired at any time for any reason. That of course doesn't include reasons that constitute discrimination but it does mean employers don't have to justify their decisions to terminate employees.

But since they have given a reason for the firing, there is an opportunity to look at whether it appears legitimate.

The lifeguards were not allowed to use the property or their city-issued uniforms for unauthorized uses like the video, according to a statement by city officials.

But the guards claim they did it off the clock, while the pool was closed and no patrons were around, according to Yahoo. The video then wouldn't have interfered with public use of the pool. While it may violate the letter of the policy, it doesn't necessarily violate the spirit.

City officials weren't pleased with what happened but the video isn't particularly rude or inappropriate. We'll let you be the judge of whether it crosses a line:

El Monte does seem to be within its right to fire the employees but that doesn't mean it was a good idea. Their quick reaction has likely led to a headache for city officials as the lifeguards' story has become more popular.

The guards have created a Facebook account and posted a petition on They plan to go to the next City Council meeting to ask for their jobs back.

The 'Gangnam Style' parody that the lifeguards created is a fun tribute to the popularity of the original but the consequences were heavy, both for the participants and the city that fired them.

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