CINCINNATI - A former teacher is suing the U.S. school district where she used to work, saying administrators discriminated against her because she has a rare phobia: a fear of young children.
Maria Waltherr-Willard, 61, had been teaching Spanish and French to teenagers in Ohio since 1976.
Waltherr-Willard, who does not have children of her own, was transferred to another school with younger students in 2009. She says the younger students triggered her phobia, caused her blood pressure to soar and forced her to retire.
Her lawsuit says her fear of young children falls under the federal American with Disabilities Act and that the district violated it by transferring her and not letting her go back to her former school. The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Gary Winters, the school district's attorney, said Waltherr-Willard was transferred because the French program at her school was being turned into an online one and that the other school needed a Spanish teacher.
"She wants money," Winters said of Walter-Willard's motivation to sue.
Waltherr-Willard and her attorney, Brad Weber, did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
The lawsuit said Waltherr-Willard has been treated for her phobia since 1991.
Patrick McGrath, a clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorders near Chicago, said 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."
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