Retired Ohio teacher Maria Waltherr-Willard is suing her school district, claiming it discriminated against her because of her disability -- a debilitating phobia of young children.
Waltherr-Willard, 61, claims in her lawsuit against the Mariemont school district that for 35 years, she taught Spanish and French to high school students in the system. But when she helped fight the district's decision to cut French class in favor of an online course, officials retaliated by reassigning her to younger students at a middle school in 2009, ignoring her hypertension, specific phobia and general anxiety disorder, Waltherr-Willard says, according to Cincinnati.com.
She claims that district officials were previously sympathetic and aware of her medically diagnosed pedophobia.
While the public and a number of commentators have taken to ridicule the teacher and her lawsuit, Dr. Caleb Adler, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, says it's a serious phobia, as the illness causes Walterr-Willard to experience stress, anxiety, chest pains, vomiting, nightmares and high blood pressure when she's near young children.
"It's a tough phobia. You can't really get away from [children] when you're outside," Adler told Cincinnati.com. "When you're a teacher, it may not be an issue with older students."
Working with younger children at the middle school "adversely affected [Waltherr-Willard's] health, due to her disability," the lawsuit claims, according to ABC News. Although she reportedly helped the younger students succeed in their foreign language endeavors, the move still increased her blood pressure to levels that placed her at risk for a stroke.
When the district denied her request to transfer back to the high school for the 2010-2011 academic year, Waltherr-Willard was forced into early retirement at the age of 59, the suit claims.
A federal judge has dismissed three of Walterr-Willard's claims in the suit, arguing that the district violated an implied contract to keep her away from young students. The three remaining discrimination claims are awaiting district response, and a tentative trial date is set for February 2014.
Walterr-Willard seeks past and future pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorneys' fees.