Former Teacher Sues Over Fear Of Children Phobia

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CINCINNATI
(AP) — A former high school teacher is accusing school district
administrators of discriminating against her because of a rare phobia
she says she has: a fear of young children.

Maria Waltherr-Willard, 61, had been teaching Spanish and French at Mariemont High School in Cincinnati since 1976.

Waltherr-Willard,
who does not have children of her own, said that when she was
transferred to the district's middle school in 2009, the seventh- and
eighth-graders triggered her phobia, causing her blood pressure to soar
and forcing her to retire in the middle of the 2010-2011 school year.

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 school district's attorney, said Tuesday that
Waltherr-Willard was transferred because the French program at the high
school was being turned into an online one and that the middle school
needed a Spanish teacher.

“She wants money,”
Winters said of Walter-Willard's motivation to sue. “Let's keep in mind
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.”

Waltherr-Willard and her attorney, Brad Weber, did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

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 said that
Waltherr-Willard has been treated for her phobia since 1991 and also
suffers from general anxiety disorder, high blood pressure and a
gastrointestinal illness. She was managing her conditions well until the
transfer, according to the lawsuit.

Working with the younger students adversely affected Waltherr-Willard's health, the lawsuit said.

She
was “unable to control her blood pressure, which was so high at times
that it posed a stroke risk,” according to the lawsuit, which includes a
statement from her doctor about her high blood pressure. “The mental
anguish suffered by (Waltherr-Willard) is serious and of a nature that
no reasonable person could be expected to endure the same.”

The
lawsuit was filed in June and is set to go to trial in February 2014. A
judge last week dismissed three of the ex-teacher's claims, but left
discrimination claims standing.

The lawsuit says that Waltherr-Willard has lost out on at least $100,000 of potential income as a result of her retirement.

Winters
said that doesn't make sense, considering that Waltherr-Willard's take
from retirement is 89 percent of what her annual salary was, which was
around $80,000.

Patrick McGrath, a clinical
psychologist and director of the Center for Anxiety and Obsessive
Compulsive Disorders near Chicago, said that he has treated patients who
have fears involving children and that anyone can be afraid of
anything.

“A lot of people will look at
something someone's afraid of and say, `There is no rational reason to
be afraid of that,'” he said. “But anxiety disorders are emotion-based.
… We've had mothers who wouldn't touch their children after they're
born.”

He said most phobias begin with people asking themselves, “What if?” and then imagining the worst-case scenario.

“You
can make an association to something and be afraid of it,” McGrath
said. “If you get a phone call that your mom was just in a horrible
accident as you're locking the door, you can make an association that
bad news comes if you don't lock the door right. It's a basic case of
conditioning.”

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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