Teacher with fear of children sues school district for discrimination

High school teacher Maria C. Waltherr-Willard, 61, is suing a school district for discrimination, claiming it pushed her to resign because of her age but also her disability. Waltherr-Willard has pedophobia, a fear of children. For 35 years, Waltherr-Willard has been a teacher in Mariemont, a community just outside Cincinnati, Ohio. From Cincinnati.com:
Documents filed in the case by her medical doctor, psychiatrists and psychologists note that she experiences stress, anxiety, chest pains, vomiting, nightmares and higher than healthy blood pressure when she’s around young children.

A federal judge on Wednesday dismissed three of the six claims in her lawsuit, claims which alleged Mariemont violated an implied contract to keep her from young students.

District Judge Herman J. Weber said the district lived up to its written contract – with the teachers union – and that Waltherr-Willard would still be employed had she not resigned.

He did not rule on the other main allegations of the suit, giving the district’s attorneys more time to respond to them.

"Teacher claims discrimination over fear of kids" (Thanks, Charles Pescovitz!)


  1. Aren’t 8th grade students similar to 9th grade students in size?  Or was she teaching 12th grade before being transferred?  Is the phobia connected to just knowing someone’s age and, if so, where is the cut-off?

  2. i’m sorry, what? Even if she’s a high school teacher or something, why on earth would you ever become a teacher if you’re that scared of little kids?  I mean, in most schools, there are integrated ages. My highschool was attached to an elementary school, and there were little kids lined up and walking down the halls all the time. I’m sorry she feels like she’s being pushed out of her job, but there needs to be more info in this article to paint a more complete picture of what’s going on.

    1. The article states that she has been teaching for 35 years, but only started having her anxiety issues since the 1990s.  So, presumably, she had been a teacher for ~20 years with no issues.

      So, two things:

      1. when she became a teacher, she was not scared of little kids
      2. high schoolers are not the same as junior high schoolers even though they may be just one year apart.
      3. after teaching high school for 35 years, why should she be forced to move to a junior high school, seems a bit of a waste of experience and expertise.

      OK, that was 3 things.

      1. 3. after teaching high school for 35 years, why should she be forced to move to a junior high school, seems a bit of a waste of experience and expertise.

        So that she would voluntarily retire and save the district and union a lot of time, effort, money, and grief.  That’s the usual reason. (Seniority is expensive to school districts, much cheaper to replace those with maxed out salary and benefits with new college grads.)

        1. The reason given in a different news article was that she was part of a successful pushback against the district in their efforts to replace French language classes (she’s a language teacher) with online courses

  3. She began having trouble in 2009, when she discussed with parents the likelihood that the district would eliminate teacher-led French courses at the high school. The high school planned to offer it online.

    what sort of an excuse for a high school is this?

      1. Paying for actual teaching is always going to be less expensive than paying for an online course that nobody actually learns from. 

        Maybe cut some sports instead or make them pay for play?  Too crazy?

        1. It depends on the course and it depends on the teachers involved.  Some online courses are superior to classroom courses and vice versa.

        2. Worried about humanities education? Go back to socialist Kenya, you muslim!
          [This is meant as a joke about the kind of accusations uninformed conservatives often make. No actual hostility is intended.]

      2. The trouble is that it’s a language course.  Being in the same room with other people speaking is one of the most important parts of the course.

    1. It’s a very small high school, and through years of this lady, French has never been overly popular. In my day, only about 3 or 4 students ever made it much past French I or II. 

      1. My high school offered five or six years of french and spanish (as middle schools offered the first year of those languages), four of german, latin, and possibly that many of japanese and russian. 

        A public high school with 1000 students.

        1. That sounds pretty awesome, I wish every kid had access to a high school with more options. It just isn’t really feasible for a lot of places.

        2. Even in public schools, funding is not directly proportional to attendance. It has a whole lot more to do with the area the school is in and the property taxes supporting it.

    2. jerwin, it’s actually an excellent school. This is a district where the students come from wealthy families that can afford private school but choose the public school because it’s so good. This is why I can’t understand why they kept Senora Waltherr on for so long. She was horrible.

  4. Seems like interacting with children would clearly be part of the “essential functions” of the job:

    Employment discrimination is prohibited against “qualified individuals with disabilities.” […] A qualified individual with a disability is a person who… can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation.

    I guess the argument might be that, with the suggestion of the online course (above), the teacher could claim that standing in front of children is not an “essential function.”

    An employer has to make an effort to provide “reasonable accommodations.” However, I think it would be trivial to argue that an in-person class is advantageous to the students as compared to an online class, and so moving the class offline to suit the teacher is therefore an unreasonable accommodation.

    1. No.  Not this.

      She is not the one teaching the online course.  She was teaching in person at a high school.  The district wants to reassign her to a junior high school.  The online course probably does not have a full time teacher – it is, however, filling the job role that she used to have.

      the “reasonable accommodation”, which had been working up until that time, was that she was teaching at a high school, where the students were apparently old enough to not trigger the phobia.

  5. I don’t know about the merits of her case, but as a K-12 school librarian, I can testify that despite little difference in actual age, middle schoolers and high schoolers are miles apart in behavior and demeanor.  They generally require very different strategies for teaching and discipline.

    Some people can cross over well, but it seems to me like a waste of expertise to move anyone who’s been teaching one age group for 30+ years to any other age group (older or younger) with which they have no experience.

    1. Also a waste of time is to visit any of the doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists who treated her, since she is still afflicted.

        1. I know, I was being flip. But I think this woman’s claim is a bit ridiculous, no offense to people suffering from phobias.

    2. Yeah. Bizarre phobias aside teaching isn’t quite a skill set that’s portable through age groups. Before she retired, my mother had taught K-1 for over 30 years, and just moving her to 3rd grade was a huge shift. She did well, but didn’t enjoy it quite as much and retired soon after. 

    3. Yeah, as someone who has taught ages from preschool to pensioner, I would be inclined to agree. Also, I should look up the term for a phobia of middle schoolers is because, hoo boy, that is definitely the age group I find the most intimidating and challenging.

  6. I went to this high school. She actually is who I imagine when I read about Ms. Umbridge in Harry Potter, so good call previous commenter.

    I had this woman as a teacher for half a semester (in 7th grade we took a semester of each of the four foreign languages offered so that we could choose which we’d like to take the following year). Up until about 1997 or 1998, this district was K-6 and 7-12 (no separate junior high); so for most of her teaching career, and at least part of her stated time of phobia, she taught 7-12.Though she was a horrible teacher who yelled a lot, and was not interested in actually teaching, I never saw any signs that she was actually afraid of any of us. She certainly didn’t aid my choice to pursue a different language. Our German class was often disrupted by her classes loudly watching Disney movies dubbed in French. She had a lot of study hall duty since her classes were low in demand, and the principal at the time would dismiss detentions given during her study halls because of the overwhelming number of them without cause. I never quite understood how she kept her job at all.She shouldn’t have been teaching to begin with, and I can only hope this suit is dismissed.

    1. Though she was a horrible teacher who yelled a lot, and was not interested in actually teaching, I never saw any signs that she was actually afraid of any of us.

      Aggression is a classic way of coping with fear. Cornered rat is the stereotype.

    2. She would get all worked up when kids did things like pronounce the H in “hola” and would crawl under her desk. Lady was cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. It was the ’96-’97 school year when the jr. high opened and they moved grades 7-8 out of the high school.

      1. She taught Spanish as well? Jeez, if she taught TWO languages and both classes had trouble filling seats Administration should blame the common factor — and I don’t mean both being romance languages. 

        1. There was another Spanish teacher (I think she’s still there), but so many kids took Spanish that Waltherr took the spillover. When I was there, the other teacher taught Spanish 1 and 2. Waltherr taught French 1, 2, 3 and 4 and Spanish 3 and 4. For Spanish 1 and 2 my classes were packed. When I got to Spanish 3, most people didn’t want to take a class taught by Waltherr so my class dwindled to about 5 students…and there was only one kid in Spanish 4 so she sat in on my class since they couldn’t make a whole class for just one person.

    3. I had one of those teachers for seventh grade math. She had two modes: anger and disgust.  Her attitude was so bad that I think that we actually unlearned things in her class.  I complained to the principal, and to the school’s credit, they investigated and she didn’t come back the following year.

      1. Everyone who can remember their school years or who has a child in school is well aware of the maybe five percent of teachers who just plain hate their jobs and are there only to check off the days till they qualify for a pension.

        Figure out a way to get the hell rid of those teachers and a lot of the hostility toward public schools and teachers’ unions will evaporate.

        1. I had two extremely crabby teachers in high school, both of whom seemed to be doing their utmost to make students hate learning.  Turned out that both of them were going through divorces.  I guess that there should be a system for putting teachers on office duty for a year when they’re having personal crises.

      1. I’m struggling myself too.  I was wondering what happens as she (and those with this phobia) gets older.  Is the phobia age and size specific?  Or as she ages, does her perception of what a ‘child’ is shift as well? 

        Wonder how she’d do at a Little People’s convention?  :^)

  7. This is AWESOME sort of.

    Think of all the douchey pharmacists who refuse to dispense morning-after pills, birth control pills, and anything else that MAY possibly lead to Recreational Use of LadyParts by their owners.

    Their cases, plus ones like this, clears the way for vegetarians to be allowed to not serve meat at Applebee’s and the like.  Me, as someone with congenital coordination issues, I plan on suing Cirque de Soleil for discrimination.


  8. These stories annoy me because they are the “OOOooo, aren’t Americans ridiculously litigious? Someone should do something about that!” trope foisted on us. 

    People’s objections to these types of lawsuits seem to come from either a.) a misunderstanding of the facts/merits of the allegation or b.) a belief that our court system is overwhelmed by “frivolous” lawsuits. 
    Second one first, from what I understand, our court system IS overwhelmed with frivolous lawsuits… except it’s companies and businesses suing each other that is jamming up the court system (patent trolling, anyone?), not individuals. You get the eyerolls from stories like this teacher’s, but no one says we should limit corporate access to the courts in the same breath.

    The meme of “frivolous lawsuits” and “tort reform” are actually spin by Business to increase their immunity to public responsibility and try and reduce the individual’s access to the court system. Good documentary on this and other famous so-called “frivolous lawsuits http://www.hotcoffeethemovie.com/

    This woman is making a claim, it seems valid enough on its face to warrant a legal hearing, she should get her day in court to argue for her rights. If it has no merit, it will be dismissed early. America, love it or leave it.

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