The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee who is a qualified individual with a disability. Employers are not required to provide unreasonable accommodations, such as those that do not enable an employee to perform the essential functions of a job or require the employer to create a new position. The Sixth Circuit recently reiterated this well-established rule in a case where a school teacher was afraid of children – really! Waltherr-Willard v. Mariemont City Sch., No. 14-3168 (6th Cir. Feb. 11, 2015).
Maria Waltherr-Willard taught foreign language at Mariemont High School in Ohio. Willard suffers from pedophobia, a debilitating fear of young children. In 1997, Mariemont asked Willard to teach at the elementary school. Citing her pedophobia, and providing a letter from her psychologist explaining her inability to teach children under the age of 12, Willard declined the request. Mariemont, however, sent Willard for an independent evaluation, which confirmed her pedophobia. The school district relented and did not require Willard to teach at the elementary school.
Willard remained at the high school for the next 12 years, teaching French and introductory Spanish. Another teacher taught the other Spanish courses. At some point, Mariemont moved its French courses online. To determine what to do with Willard now that the high school did not need a French teacher, the school superintendent spoke with Mariemont’s principal, who advised him that Willard suffered from pedophobia. The superintendent decided to transfer Willard to the middle school where she could work with students old enough so as to avoid Willard’s condition.
Willard was enthusiastic about the opportunity. In September 2010, Willard began teaching at the middle school. Six months later, she requested a transfer back to the high school because she was being underutilized. The district denied the request, informing Willard that there were no openings at the high school. Instead of staying at the middle school, Willard retired and sued the school district.
Willard’s lawsuit included a host of claims, including age and disability discrimination. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Mariemont on Willard’s discrimination claims. Summary judgment was proper on Willard’s failure to accommodate claim because her request to be transferred back to the high school was unreasonable. The school already had a Spanish teacher and did not need another — the school was not required to create a job for Willard or displace an existing employee.
On Willard’s ADEA claim, the court concluded that Willard was not replaced by a younger teacher. When Willard retired, she was replaced by a teacher of similar age. That replacement was later replaced by a younger teacher, however, the younger teacher was not Willard’s replacement and therefore did not support her ADEA claim.