Maria Waltherr-Willard, a long-time foreign language teacher in Cincinnati’s Mariemont district, has has lost her appeal in federal court concerning a disability claim that she was afraid of children.
John Johnson, writing for Newser, says that Waltherr-Willard was transferred to a middle school when the district put its French course online in 2009. After working at the middle school for six months, she requested to be returned to the high school but was denied. Waltherr-Willard, who is now 61, retired.
Her suit was predicated on her fear of young children, or pedophobia. This, she argued, should have kept her from being transferred away from the high school. The move, according to Waltherr-Willard, resulted in health problems. The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Ohio rejected her disability claim.
The Americans With Disabilities Act “requires an employer to accommodate a disabled employee, but it does not require unreasonable accommodations,” ruled the court.
The ADA does not require employers to create new jobs. The court also denied her age discrimination claim, citing that the high school French teacher was only two years younger and remained at the high school.
Waltherr-Willard has suffered from her extreme fear or anxiety around young children since the 1990s and says that Mariemont assured her that she would not have to teach young students. Her medical doctor, psychiatrists, and psychologists have noted that “she suffers stress, anxiety, chest pains, vomiting, nightmares, and higher than healthy blood pressure when she is around young children,” says Denise Smith Amos, writing for USA Today.
The claims by Waltherr-Willard that Mariemont had violated an implied contract were dismissed by the federal judge. District Judge Herman J. Weber said the district lived up to its contract and that Waltherr-Willard would still be working for the district if she had not resigned. Experts in phobias say that pedaphobia is rare but does exist and is a recognized anxiety disorder which can also manifest as a fear of dolls, a distaste for children, or an obsession with one’s own children.
“It’s a tough phobia. You can’t really get away from (children) when you’re outside,” said Dr. Caleb Adler, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati. “When you’re a teacher, it may not be an issue with older students.”
When Waltherr-Willard found in 2009 that the school would likely eliminate classroom French courses, she began to talk with parents about the change. She was admonished for doing so by district officials, and then was transferred to the middle school as retaliation, according to Waltherr-Willard. In 1997, Waltherr-Willard was asked to teach students from 4th to 6th grades, but did not accept because of her condition.
The UK’s Daily Mail reports the school accommodated her request at that time and she remained in the high school. After what her principal intimated was an effort to create an uproar with parents by discussing the district’s plan to offer French class online instead of a face-to-face setting, she claims she was threatened with losing her job if she continued to agitate.