NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – For the first time, a New Mexico worker is suing their employer to avoid getting the vaccine for coronavirus. A jail guard is suing Dona Ana County over their mandate, which threatens to terminate employees who refuse to get the vaccine.

At the end of January, Dona Ana County issued a mandate requiring all county first responders to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, one named defendant, who is a jail guard, and 20 other anonymous employees are fighting back. “Since we filed this suit on behalf of our client at the detention center, we have heard from several other people saying that they’re in the same boat. That they do not want to take the vaccine and they want some help,” said Attorney Johnathan Diener.

Diener says Isaac Legaretta does not want to take the vaccine because he fears it isn’t safe. Diener argues Dona Ana County has no legal right to force their employees to get the vaccine but Dona Ana County Attorney Nelson Goodin says he believes the county is within their rights. Goodin declined an interview but said the first responder mandate is important to keep everyone safe, especially in jails because COVID can run rampant there.

Goodin also says if a guard is exposed to or contracts COVID-19, they’re out of work for at least 10 days which could lead to safety issues. Goodin says the county is not backing down on this mandate and employees who refuse the vaccine could be terminated. However, Diener says his client is still going to work every day. “At this time, he’s still continuing to work. He hasn’t been fired and I’m hoping that Dona Ana county is thinking about whether they really have a legal right to be forcing him to take a vaccine in order to work,” Diener said.

Dona Ana County is one of only four New Mexico counties still in the red level. The Dona Ana County Detention Center currently has a positivity rate of 6.9%, about 2% lower than the entire county’s. The county says 90% of jail employees who have contact with detainees have at least one dose of the vaccine.