A teacher in Ohio is suing her former school district, alleging discrimination: She says she was forced to teach younger kids despite her fear of them.
Maria Waltherr-Willard, 61, who worked for Mariemont City Schools for 35 years, was reassigned from a high school to a junior high in Cincinnati, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Her lawsuit claims the district discriminated against her based on age and her "pedophobia," which can mean an extreme fear or anxiety around young children, the Enquirer said. The suit was filed in June 2012.
When Waltherr-Willard was transferred to a junior high school, she reportedly asked if there would be a high school position for her the following year. The school district claimed there were no open positions at the high school for her, according to Fox19.com in Cincinnati. She eventually retired in March 2011.
The lawsuit calims that the French and Spanish teacher had been diagnosed with specific phobia and general anxiety disorder, Fox19.com reported.
Experts told the Enquirer that extreme anxiety or irrational fear around children is a rare but recognized anxiety disorder.
"Like any phobia, it’s a situation in which one responds with overwhelming fear and anxiety to the stimulus," Dr. Caleb Adler, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Cincinnati, told NBC News.
Childhood trauma and bullying incidents could be the cause of phobias like this, Adler said.
A spokesperson for Mariemont City Schools declined to comment Tuesday because of the litigation, but referred NBC News to the district's legal representation. Attorney R. Gary Winters said the district believes there is no merit in Waltherr-Willard's claims.
"Ms. Waltherr-Willard was a tenured teacher who could have continued to work as long as she wished, but retired," Winters said.
An attorney for Waltherr-Willard did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Enquirer reported that a federal judge last week dismissed three of the six claims in her lawsuit gave the district's attorneys more time to respond to the others.