For those employed in the teaching profession, there is usually a student here or there that knows how to push your buttons and “make your blood pressure soar.”
But for one longtime high school teacher, her rare phobia causes a fear of young children and literally creates physical symptoms such as a dangerous spike in blood pressure and she has taken legal action against school district administration for alleged discrimination.
Maria Waltherr-Willard had been teaching Spanish and French at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati for more than three decades when she was transferred to the district’s middle school in 2009. According to Waltherr-Willard, the seventh and eighth grade students she was forced to work with triggered her phobia compelling her to retire in the middle of the 2010-2011 school year.
She is suing the school district contending that her condition, pedophobia: fear or anxiety around young children, falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act and that the district violated the ADA by transferring her, refusing to allow her return to teaching at the high school level and pressuring her to resign.
School district attorney, Gary Winters, states that she was transferred because the French program was being converted to an online learning program and that the middle school was in need of a Spanish teacher.
But, Walter-Willard believes her transfer was based, at least partially, upon retaliation for comments made to parents and her assistance in fighting the district’s decision to cut French classes in favor of the online course. Her attorney, Bradford Weber, in a July 2011 letter to the EEOC, stated that her transfer was, “the beginning of a deliberate, systematic and calculated effort to squeeze her out of a job.”
Waltherr-Willard, who has no children of her own, has supposedly suffered from the phobia since the 1990s and claims that Mariemont had been sympathetic of her diagnosis and had made previous assurances to her and her lawyer that she would not be required to teach young children.
In addition to being treated for the phobia, the lawsuit states that she also suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, high blood pressure and a gastrointestinal illness: conditions she was apparently managing well prior to her transfer.
Documents filed on her behalf from her medical doctor, psychiatrists and psychologists state that when she is around young children she experiences extreme stress and anxiety with chest pain, vomiting, nightmares and dangerously high blood pressure.
Her doctor said that at times, after the transfer, her blood pressure was so high it posed a stroke risk. Aside from physical symptoms, her doctor has also noted that “the mental anguish suffered is serious and of a nature that no reasonable person could be expected to endure.”
Walter-Willard is seeking past and future pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. Winters, denying her claims, says that her motivation is merely financial. She just wants money. He adds that, “our goal here is to provide the best teachers for students and the best academic experience for students, which certainly wasn’t accomplished by her walking out on them in the middle of the year.”
A federal judge recently dismissed three of the six claims in her suit stating that the school district lived up to its written contract – with the teachers union – and had she not willfully retired, Waltherr-Willard would still be employed.
No ruling was made on the other allegations, awaiting district response and a tentative trial date is scheduled for February 2014.