Valdosta Daily Times

Top News

January 16, 2013

Ohio ex-teacher sues, says she fears young kids

CINCINNATI — 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.”

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

1
Text Only
Top News
  • Michigan affirmative ban is OK, Supreme Court says

    A state’s voters are free to outlaw the use of race as a factor in college admissions, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a blow to affirmative action that also laid bare tensions among the justices about a continuing need for programs that address racial inequality in America.

    April 23, 2014

  • ‘Piles and piles’ of bodies in South Sudan slaughter

    Gunmen who targeted both children and the elderly left “piles and piles” of bodies — many of those in a mosque — in a provincial capital in South Sudan, the U.N.’s top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • Obama_Stew.jpg Obama views mudslide scene

    Swooping over a terrain of great sadness and death, President Barack Obama took an aerial tour Tuesday of the place where more than three dozen people perished in a mudslide last month, then mourned privately with those who lost loved ones in the destruction.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Wall Street_Stew.jpg Earnings and corporate deals lift U.S. stocks

    Corporate deals and some solid earnings reports propelled the stock market to its sixth straight gain Tuesday.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Economy College Gradu_Stew.jpg Job market for college grads better but still weak

    With college commencement ceremonies nearing, the government is offering a modest dose of good news for graduating seniors: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court TV On t_Stew.jpg Internet TV case: Justices skeptical, concerned

    Grappling with fast-changing technology, Supreme Court justices debated Tuesday whether they can protect the copyrights of TV broadcasters to the shows they send out without strangling innovations in the use of the internet.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Today in History

    In 1791, the 15th president of the United States, James Buchanan, was born in Franklin County, Pa.

    April 23, 2014

  • Stowaway teen forces review of airport security

    A 15-year-old boy found his way onto an airport’s tarmac and climbed into a jetliner’s wheel well, then flew for five freezing hours to Hawaii — a misadventure that forced authorities to take a hard look at the security system that protects the nation’s airline fleet.

    April 22, 2014

  • South Korea Ship Sink_Rich copy.jpg Death count in ferry sinking tops 100

    One by one, coast guard officers carried the newly arrived bodies covered in white sheets from a boat to a tent on the dock of this island, the first step in identifying a sharply rising number of corpses from a South Korean ferry that sank nearly a week ago.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP520422034 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 22, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 22, the 112th day of 2014. There are 253 days left in the year.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Given the amount of rain recently, what's your favorite “rain” song?

Singing in the Rain
Purple Rain
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
November Rain
Rainy Night in Georgia
Other
     View Results