Mio Watanabe, her husband and their three children live on Kings Road. They are one of a handful of Japanese-speaking residents in West Hollywood. “We love West Hollywood,” Mio says in her heavy accent.
Shu is the eldest son and Ray is the youngest son and a sister in-between.
“I am very proud of all of them,” Mio said. “We were very happy in West Hollywood.”
‘”When Shu was six months old we took him to the pool at West Hollywood Park to teach him how to swim. We put him under the water. Every single day we go to the pool. Every day. My boys restless at home. They grow up to join the West Hollywood swim team, the Gators. And when Shu get older he work at the pool every Saturday morning.”
“Even before that Shu and Ray all of them went to the Tiny Tots. We were very close to the City of West Hollywood. Every day I drive to pick up the kids from school and we go straight to West Hollywood pool…. every day for 16 years until the park close for the re-model”.
Shu is now 21 years old. He worked at West Hollywood Park all through high school, from his freshman to senior year. Shu spoke fondly of his childhood built around West Hollywood Park, the pool and family.
“Every weekend and through the summers before then I would do the triathlon and the junior lifeguard programs when I was younger. My brother, he also grew up and my sister at the pool. I was very happy working there, it was still before the remodeling. It taught me to show up to work on time at 6:30 am, I would have to wake up at 6 am, sweep the pool deck, check the chemicals in the pool. It taught me responsibility. ”
Shu’s younger brother Ray is 16 and is also a certified lifeguard. Mio says, “We took Ray to the pool when he was 2 years old to teach him to swim and we put him in the pool and he was crying and crying.”
When the new West Hollywood Park pool was about to open this year Ray had just turned 16 and applied for a lifeguard position. Shu had went to college but wanted Ray to share some of the great experiences he had during his high school years. A job on the pool deck or as a lifeguard has a base pay of $21 or more per hour, plus vacation pay. “The money is good,” he said. So Ray passed on taking college courses and planned his summer around his pool schedule. After years of construction the pool re-opening was a highly anticipated event for the Watanabe family.
But when the new West Hollywood Park pool re-opened, things were different. “While most of the old staff was back at work there were also some new employees. One of the city hall ‘high up’ had secured two jobs for her daughters. The other staff knew of the ‘power’ their mom had.
When the pool reopened in June, Ray was hired as one of the certified lifeguards. He was doing his job and loving going to work again at the pool. “Everybody was getting along.” Before work or during breaks the staff would put sunscreen on themselves or each other. “The staff would all put sunscreen on, and some would rub sunscreen on each other’s backs. ” Ray was being accused of harassment for spreading sunscreen on a co-workers back for 2-4 minutes.
The next time Ray came to work.
“Kimberly, the other full manager told me to talk to Jenny Lu. Jenny Lu is the human resources manager at City Hall. “The first call was to explain the situation that I was being accused of . We talked for 40-50 minutes.”
“Then a week later she called to fire me. I got fired by Jenny Lu who I never met. She herself, I had never seen at the pool. Jenny Lu has no idea what she was talking about.”
Jenny Lu, who is the human resources manager at City hall, fired the 16 year old minor on the spot. While the city needed his mother permission to hire her 16 year old minor, Mio she never received a call to discuss any issues or that he was going to be fired.
From here on out the names of the other co-workers will be will be changed to protect their identity. Some are still minors, all will be marked in ‘”their name.'” City Staff employees are indicated in bold.
Ray alleges that he was fired because “Selena” complained to her mom, a ‘powerful high up’, at City Hall. Jenny Lu, the human resources manager at City Hall, then took actions against Ray to fire him without due process.
“You know most Asian people especially Japanese more quiet,” Mio said. “My son came home crying, I asked what happened? He seemed really happy to work there. I drop him off 9:30, and he come home about two hours later. What happened I ask him? Jenny Lu , fire him. He is a minor, he is only 16 years old. That my opinion, the City Hall should have called me. He is young.”
“The system totally wrong, “Selena” working at the pool, getting paid, she suppose to speak to her supervisor, not her mom at City Hall who contact Jenny Lu, to fire Ray. “Casey” hired Ray but was not involved in the firing. He is a minor. They send him home with no calling me. This is not right.”
Ray: Everybody at the pool is super friends and super nice. 80% of the staff has known each other for a long time.
Mom: We went to a lawyer, we want to clear our name. The lawyer say $70,000-$80,000 to get started and the city will spend so much money against us. It’s not fair. They have these big lawyers and all money they need. Lawyer say can take two or three years and we scared. Now we are afraid and ashamed to go back to the pool.
So they hired you as a minor?
Did you have a chance to speak to anybody when they fired you?
Ray: Other then Jenny Lu No.
Had you ever met Jenny Lu?
So human resources department at city hall called you and let you go?
Did they call your mom?
Did you have a hearing?
Ray explained, “Yes, I know the pool family my entire life, and they kind of just cut me off. “Selena’s” mom, she is pretty high up in the City of West Hollywood thing. . I feel like any other case or if there was no higher up person, they would have handled it with “Casey”. But this time since “Selena’s” mom was so higher up they go to Jenny Lu, she has never been to the pool, just took “Selena” and her friends statement. That was unfair. Everything was so much more biased. It was super unfair. I feel like if it was any other case “Casey” would have handled it.”
Did the City of West Hollywood ask you permission to hire Ray?
Mio: I said Yes. When Ray at Hollywood High school and then he got permission to work at City of West Hollywood pool. So we all agree. If something happen they suppose to call me. He is a minor. If something happen they are suppose to call me.
So Mr. Shu, big brother, coming to protect your family. How can we settle this?
It is not up to me, its up to Ray, but definitely an apology would be nice. It would be nice to hear from “Ryan” or “Casey” who hired him. We were very close to him, he was the aquatics supervisor. We were friends, he helped Ray get the job. “Casey” is a good guy and was excited to help get Ray the work permit. He even offered to go to Hollywood High school to pick up the permit. sign off on the permit, We had good relations. He is the highest up. This dude, is like a good dude, if he had a restaurant opening we came, but he could contact us.”
We have other friends there. I called “Michael”, (name changed for fear of retaliation). he said he saw what happened, he told me on the phone nothing happened. And then he share about “Selena”. We ask to see him.
Mio added, I want to see you with my son. And then he say yes, and then later cancelled. He does not want to say anything because he don’t want to get fired.
Do people work under fear at the pool?
It seems like that. After I got fired “Nancy” (name changed for fear or retaliation). was afraid to talk to me. She said she could get fired. Just because “Selena’s mom has such a high position at City Hall.
WEHOville has learned that the Corri Planc, the Strategic Initiatives Manager for the City of West Hollywood has two daughters who are/were employed at the West Hollywood Park Pool.
Mio: Nobody want to say anything because they all afraid to gets fired.
How do you feel?
Ray answered, its tough. It’s feels like something that should not have happened. Now people took sides and afraid of getting fired.
So what do you want? Hows this affected you?
Ray: “It ruined my summer for sure, I wanted to just work and have fun. I usually take college courses over the summer but put that aside to work at the pool. By that point I got fired in the middle of the summer and could not take any courses. Also my perspective and how they use that power to leverage against you. It seems super unfair, now I know that nothing can be done sometimes.”
Maybe not, – so mom, tell me what you think.
You know I was really happy to be living in West Hollywood, because most people nice and the kids grow here, and they really enjoy West Hollywood pool. You know we went most everyday. And now, after this instance nobody call us, nobody. We were really close. And also noone help us. It’s like a bullying.
Shu: My mom feels like its bullying.
Mom: Asian bullying
Are there any other asians at the pool?
Ray: Just us and “Nancy”
Mom: There is one friend “Nancy”, She is the only one who called us.
Shu. Nancy is like 22-23, she grew up with me. We were on the junior swim team, lifeguards together, but she is the only one who contacted us, but that didn’t have to her being on duty, that her off checking in after us after what happened. But, after she talked to us, she was forced to take a sexual harassment class, just her I believe.
Shu, after she talked to us she was given harassment trainings and was told that she wasn’t suppose talk to us because your not suppose to talk the accused. So she stopped talking to us, and we were really close.
Shu: “Casey” knows, we are really close. “Nancy” is the only one my mom can really talk to, because she speaks really good japanese..
Mom: So they only protect themselves. They know something wrong. They knew “Selena” is wrong. After that nobody take responsibility, they want no one to come to the pool, everybody so quiet.
Have you spoke to anybody at human resources since this happened?
We went to a lawyer.. City Hall has footage they should review before making decisions. June 21st was the day. I think they have the footage but my opinion, Jenny Lu suppose to check the footage first, that the evidence first. And also she believe only ‘Selena” and her friend.
What do you want, what can solve the problem, can the city do something?
Ray: I think that the bare minimum is an apology. I think about working there that can be very difficult.
Sometimes you got to walk through the clouds to wind up on the other end of the rainbow, and that is something that you sometimes have to do in life, would you be willing?
Ray: I think probably yes. The money is good. Everybody knows what happens so its kind of difficult. But I think to probably get my job there would be nice.
Do you go just to the pool anymore – just to swim?
Ray: I cant do that anymore, I’m not sure I’m allowed there, ‘Selena’ may be there. (refers to incident cannot mention to do with the personal knowledge of ‘Selena’ issues)
Mio: we don’t got to the pool, we are asian, we are ashamed, – growing up , the coaches, they all know us and nobody help us, they all afraid of the city hall. I called to “Ronnie” and he said he would look into it but he never call back. “Nancy” is Japanese and also work at the the pool, she very nice, and she said to me that it never happen, “Selena” seem to have a problem with everyone. She is the odd one at the pool, all the old staff really don’t want to deal with her, only the new staff deals with her.
Mio says: “Maybe after this problem is solved, we can be happy. Maybe we should stay living in West Hollywood. Before I was really shocked, I don’t want to live here anymore”.
Publishers Note: This story was leaked to City Staff and a member of the City Council over the past three weeks during the research phase. The pool closure was announced shortly thereafter due to ‘repairs’. We should question how the children of city staff get these preferred jobs and how that affects other workers. The policy is managed by City Manager David Wilson. I hope that City Hall can conduct an investigation into this matter, find the footage, issue a letter of apology, provide the family with a proclamation for its long dedication to West Hollywood, and give Ray the opportunity to stand tall and work at the West Hollywood Park Pool. And give this family the gift of restitution and honor.