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Teacher With Fear of Children Not Entitled to ADA Accommodation

    Client Alerts
  • March 06, 2015

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations that allow a disabled employee to perform the essential functions of the job. However, not all accommodation requests are reasonable. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected a claim by a teacher with a mental condition that made her fear young children, that she was entitled to an accommodation that would preserve her current job.

In Waltherr-Willard v. Mariemont City Sch., the plaintiff was a high school teacher who had been asked to transfer to an elementary school position. She declined, providing the school with information showing that she suffered from pedophobia, a diagnosed fear of young children. The school complied with her request, keeping the plaintiff at the high school until that position was eliminated due to curriculum changes. As an alternative, the school district offered her transfer to a middle school teaching position. The plaintiff initially accepted the transfer, but shortly thereafter requested a transfer back to the high school, claiming that the middle school job was negatively impacting her health. The school denied this request, noting that there were no open high school teaching positions at that time. The plaintiff sued under the ADA, claiming failure to accommodate her disability.

The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim on summary judgment. The court concluded that the plaintiff’s request for transfer back to the high school was an unreasonable accommodation because there were no vacant available positions at that time. The ADA does not require employers to create new jobs for disabled employees, or bump an incumbent employee in order to provide the requested accommodation.

In order to remain eligible for protection under the ADA, employees must be capable of performing the essential functions of their jobs. Some medical conditions legitimately prevent the employee from performing these duties. This case reminds employers that not every request for accommodation must be granted. An employee’s displeasure with the results of the accommodation consideration process will not serve as grounds for legal relief.