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Teacher With Fear of Children Loses Discrimination Lawsuit Appeal

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on February 12, 2015 10:17 AM

It appears that the long struggle of one former Ohio schoolteacher to avoid discrimination is at an end. In 2013, we blogged about Maria Waltherr-Willard, who worked as a school teacher in Cincinnati for 35 years but eventually was diagnosed with anxiety.

On Wednesday, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the school district in Willard's Americans With Disabilities Act claim.

Willard claimed she was forced into early retirement due to her debilitating fear of children.

The Kids Are All Terrifying

That's right: Willard suffers from "pedophobia," a fear of children -- specifically, elementary school-aged children. She told her boss, who from then on didn't require her to teach elementary school. She taught French and Spanish at the high school for 12 years, until the district decided to put its French courses online. They also didn't need a second Spanish teacher anymore. With no need for her at the high school, they sent Willard to the junior high school, because she's only afraid of elementary school kids, right?

At this point, you're expecting to hear, "No, she's afraid of junior high kids too," but the truth is, she wasn't. Willard apparently started spreading rumors that the high school would no longer offer any French courses. The district superintendent met with her to discuss these rumors. During the meeting, Willard claimed the superintendent "screamed at her, told her that he would punish her for spreading rumors, and 'lunged' across the table at her."

After six months at the junior high school, Willard asked to be returned to the high school, but was told there were no open positions. Shortly after that, she retired.

No Need to Make Unreasonable Accommodations

The Americans With Disabilities Act does require employers to make reasonable accommodations for employee disabilities and medical conditions. It turns out the district did accommodate her pedophobia; she never apparently had a problem with junior high students.

Even if she did, however, the 6th Circuit said the employer's inability to accommodate her return to high school was reasonable. The high school already had a Spanish teacher, so "to accommodate Willard, [the school district] would have to create a new job at the high school or else displace the existing Spanish teacher." Reasonable accommodations under the ADA are those that have minimal business impact. An employer, though, isn't required to create a new position or terminate an existing employee in order to accommodate a disability.

Willard also claimed age discrimination because she was replaced with a much younger teacher and because she was treated differently from the younger Spanish teacher. But "younger" here is younger by only two years, which isn't enough of an age difference to create age discrimination. Nor could she support her claim that her employer created a hostile work environment because the superintendent yelled at her one time and some employees circulated private emails about her behind her back.

Willard could certainly try to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in truth, they probably aren't going to take the case.

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