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Teacher with phobia of kids sues district for discrimination

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Texas employers cannot discriminate against disabled workers. This means employers cannot treat disabled workers unfairly due to their disabilities. A part of this is the ADA requirement that employers must provide disabled workers with reasonable accommodations to remove unnecessary obstacles in employment.

Reasonable accommodations can be any number of things. It may be a certain type of chair for a desk worker or certain kinds of equipment for manual laborers. A reasonable accommodation may even be a job-protected leave or reassignment. Most often these accommodations are very sensible things that are quite feasible for employers. A recent ADA case that is making headlines, however, is a bit more out of the ordinary.

In that case, a former high school French teacher is accusing a school district in Ohio of refusing to make accommodations for her disability: a phobia of children.

On the surface, this story sounds odd--what kind of teacher is afraid of kids? Well, the woman was a high school teacher since 1976 and she was reportedly abruptly transferred to a middle school program in 2009 against her wishes.

The teacher said the younger students triggered her phobia, causing health issues and ultimately her early retirement. She has since accused the district of violating the ADA by placing her in the middle school and refusing to allow her to go back to the high school.

According to the lawsuit, she has been treated for the phobia since 1991 and she was managing the symptoms well until she was transferred. While this case is unusual, it illustrates the fact that when workers have been diagnosed with an ADA protected disability, the employer's job is to work with the employee to find an accommodation. It is not the employer's job to determine whether it is rational or make judgments. While we do not have all of the details about this case, one might think it would have been a reasonable accommodation to reassign the teacher to a high school position or even an administrative position outside of the classroom.

She is seeking damages for lost potential income.

Source: MyFoxdc.com, "Ohio ex-teachers sues, says she fears young kids," Amanda Lee Myers, Jan. 15, 2013

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