A teacher is accusing district administrators of forcing her into retirement because they were unwilling to accommodate her unique medical condition. Maria Waltherr-Willard, 61, suffers from a rather uncommon phobia, especially among teachers. She is afraid of young children.
Waltherr-Willard has been teaching Spanish and French in Cincinnati high schools since 1976. However, in 2009 she was transferred to a middle school in the district where interaction with students caused her blood pressure and heart rate to skyrocket. As a result, Waltherr-Willard was forced to retire after less than two years at the school.
In her lawsuit against the district, filed in federal court in Cincinnati, Waltherr-Willard said that her fear of young children falls under the federal American with Disabilities Act and that the district violated it by transferring her in the first place and then refusing to allow her to return to the high school.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
Gary Winters, the attorney representing the school district, says that administrators had no choice about the transfer since the French language program at Waltherr-Willard's high school was converted into online format. She was asked to continue working at the middle school because it needed a Spanish teacher. He appeared certain that the teacher's main motivations are financial, saying that it's impossible to argue that she was dedicated to her job when she unceremoniously left her students in the middle of the academic year.
Winters also denied Walter-Willard's claim that the district transferred her out of retaliation for her unauthorized comments to parents about the French program ending — "the beginning of a deliberate, systematic and calculated effort to squeeze her out of a job altogether," Weber wrote in a July 2011 letter to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The lawsuit claims that Waltherr-Willard had been managing her condition well up until the transfer, but exposure to young children every day aggravated it. In addition to the phobia, she suffers from high blood pressure, stomach ailments and general anxiety.
Her lawyer says that working in close contact with young students had a negative effect on her mental and physical health.
Waltherr-Willard first filed the lawsuit in July 2012. It is in not scheduled to be heard until February of next year.
The filing claims that her retirement cost her over $100,000 in earned income, something disputed by the attorney for the district. According to Winters, those numbers make no sense since the teacher's retirement pay is nearly 90% of her take-home pay towards the end of her career – which was roughly $80,000.