Just when employers think they’ve heard every dubious disability claim under the sun, a teacher recently filed an ADA discrimination lawsuit claiming her employer essentially exploited her unique “phobia” and ultimately forced her into an early retirement. Before you laugh, know this: She’s been given a chance to win this case.
The case involves 61-year-old former teacher Maria Waltherr-Willard, who is currently suing her school district for disability discrimination.
Ms. Waltherr-Willard’s disability? Pedophobia, a deep-rooted fear of young kids.
The back story
Waltherr-Willard had been teaching Spanish and French at Cincinnati-based Mariemont High School since 1976, until she was transferred to her district’s middle school back in 2009.
That’s when her problems started.
As reported in The New York Times, the middle school’s seventh and eighth graders triggered Waltherr-Willard’s Pedophobia, which in turn caused her blood pressure to skyrocket and forced her to retire right in the middle of the 2010-2011 school year.
According to the Waltherr-Willard’s lawsuit, because she’s been treated for her Pedophobia since 1991 and, because that condition is a disability that’s protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the district violated the ADA by transferring her to the middle school and refusing to allow her to return to the high school when she started having problems.
The lawsuit also claims that things got so bad that Waltherr-Willard was “unable to control her blood pressure, which was so high at times that it posed a stroke risk.”
A judge refused to dismiss Waltherr-Willard’s ADA discrimination claims, and now the case is slated to go to trial in February 2014.
Safeguards from ADA discrimination
Ever since the amended ADA regs went into effect, it seems like virtually any condition can now fit the definition of an ADA protected disability.
So it’s more critical than ever for employers to engage in the “interactive process” before denying any request outright.
Remember: Even if an accommodation request seems absurd on the surface, taking it under consideration — at least until it proves to be an “undue hardship” — is always preferable to fighting a discrimination claim in court.