Ohio Teacher Claims Discrimination Over Her Phobia of Young Children

Teacher said being around middle-schoolers made her blood pressure spike.

ByABC News
January 14, 2013, 1:01 PM

Jan. 14, 2013— -- An Ohio high school Spanish and French teacher has sued her school district, claiming it discriminated against her because of her disability -- specifically, a phobia of young children -- her sex and age.

Maria C. Waltherr-Willard, who has no children of her own, had been employed by the Mariemont School District in Cincinnati for 35 years.

During her tenure, Waltherr-Willard, 61, had been diagnosed with specific phobia, general anxiety disorder and a history of hypertension, among other medical conditions. Her specific phobia was severe anxiety around young children, according to the lawsuit.

The Mariemont School District was informed of Waltherr-Willard's health problems, and received medical documentation of her need to remain teaching at the high school level, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

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Both parties agreed the phobia and anxiety disorder fell under the Americans With Disabilities Act and exempted her from future transfers within the school district, said the lawsuit.

But when the French program at Mariemont High School was eliminated in 2009, the veteran teacher was told she'd be transferred to a Spanish-teaching position at Mariemont Junior High School, the lawsuit stated.

"Working with these younger students adversely affected [Waltherr-Willard's] health, due to her disability," the lawsuit said, adding that her blood pressure rose so high at times she was at risk for a stroke.

As the stress of working with younger students took a toll on Waltherr-Willard's health, she still managed to create a successful Spanish middle-school program, the lawsuit said.

Her request for a transfer to the high school for the 2010-2011 school year was denied, the lawsuit said, forcing Waltherr-Willard into early retirement at the age of 59. One Spanish teacher, who was younger and had less experience than Waltherr-Willard, according to the lawsuit, remained at the high school, and later on, the high school added another Spanish teacher.

Last Wednesday, a federal judge dismissed the claim that the Mariemont School District violated an implied contract to keep Waltherr-Willard from having to teach young students, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. The discrimination allegations were not ruled on in order to give the school district's attorneys more time to respond to them.

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Waltherr-Willard is seeking past and future pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees.

Messages left by ABC News for Waltherr-Willard's attorney, Bradford Weber, were not immediately returned.

The Mariemont School District declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing litigation.