SANTA FE — A former New Mexico Corrections Department employee filed a lawsuit in District Court last week alleging the department violated the state's Whistleblower Protection Act when he was fired from his job at the state penitentiary a year ago.
Enrique Fernandez, who had worked at the main correctional facility south of Santa Fe for 14 years, was let go after he provided his superiors with information about three other prison employees who allegedly were members of a motorcycle club.
According to the complaint, Fernandez was fired for alleged misconduct, breach of trust and confidence, lack of judgment, and violations of department policies, including failure to be truthful during an internal affairs investigation. His termination of employment is currently under appeal with the state personnel office.
Meanwhile, in the latest lawsuit Fernandez is seeking to be reinstated to his job, along with compensatory damages for lost wages, special damages and statutory damages under the Whistleblower Act.
The complaint states that prior to his termination Fernandez applied for accommodation, a demotion from lieutenant to sergeant, in order to care for a family member, but his request was denied. Months later, he filed a discrimination complaint against the department with the state's Human Rights Division claiming violations of the Human Rights Act.
In July 2011, Fernandez reported to his superiors that an inmate told him he overheard threats made against Fernandez by three corrections officials, Maj. Adino Castillo, Lt. Joe Pacheco and Gabe Salazar, a corrections officer.
A month later, Fernandez expressed his "concerns" to corrections officials about the trio, as well as another prison employee, Capt. Carlos Valdez.
Fernandez's wife, Renee, also contacted corrections officials about her concerns for herself, her husband and her family. She alleged that Castillo, Pacheco and Salazar were affiliated with the Los Hermanos motorcycle club of Las Vegas, N.M., and the Banditos motorcycle club.
When Capt. Valdez later made allegations, which are unspecified in the complaint, about Enrique Fernandez to an investigator, Valdez admitted that the allegations could "look like retaliation" against Fernandez, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit states that actions taken against Fernandez by the corrections department "were done in retaliation for Plaintiff 's taking actions that are protected under state law and by public policy, namely: raising possible violations of Corrections policy by Corrections employees, identifying Corrections employees who are associating with potential criminal elements, raising public and private safety concerns regarding Corrections employees, and for filing a charge of discrimination for Corrections' refusal to allow Plaintiff to request an accommodation."
The complaint goes on to say that the department and its chain of command were done without good cause and "to retaliate, bother, annoy, intimidate and to otherwise deprive Plaintiff of his workplace."