Man Claims Internet Chatroom Addiction in Dispute Against IBM

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — A man suing IBM for wrongful termination has said that his use of Internet chatrooms is a disability — not unlike drug and alcohol addiction — and that IBM’s decision to fire him for visiting adult chatrooms while at work violates the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

IBM, which filed a motion for summary judgment against James Pacenza, said the employee’s use of Internet chatrooms is a clear violation of company policy.

“Plaintiff was discharged by IBM because he visited an Internet chat room for a sexual experience during work after he had been previously warned,” IBM attorneys said in their motion for summary judgment, adding that sexual behavior disorders are specifically excluded under the ADA.

Pacenza, a Vietnam veteran who admits to using Internet chatrooms and alcohol to self-medicate for post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) resulting from his war experiences, said he did not visit porn sites at work.

IBM disputed Pacenza’s claim with an affidavit from a coworker who said he saw references to a “blowjob” from a chatroom session on Pacenza’s workstation monitor.

Pacenza admitted to visiting a chatroom while at work because he had trouble coping with a recent bout of PTSD, but said the chatroom session was not pornographic.

Michael Diederich, Pacenza’s attorney, said his client visited an adult chatroom, but that the issue in the case has to do with IBM’s treatment of the plaintiff’s illness, not whether the discussion was pornographic.

Diederich also said age discrimination may have been a contributing factor in his client’s termination. Pacenza is 58.

If the case goes to trial, employers around the country will likely take note because a decision could affect how firms regulate Internet use at work and how so-called online addictions are categorized medically.

A Stanford University report from last year found that 14 percent of computer users neglected work, school, family, food and sleep because of Internet use.

Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, who directed the study, said he was most concerned about the number of users who either hid their use of the Internet, or turned to online activities to cope with negative mood swings, adding that both behavior patterns were akin to those of alcoholics.

The idea that a person could be addicted to the Internet was first put forward by Dr. Ivan Goldberg in 1995. Goldberg, who compared Internet addiction to pathological gambling, is currently lobbying to have Internet addiction included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — a reference tool used by health professionals to treat mental illness.

Attorney J.D. Obenberger told XBIZ he doesn’t see excessive use of the Internet or pornography as classic addictions.

“I don’t believe that either one exists,” he said. “If you believe Internet addiction, then you have to believe in porn addiction, but how do you get a meaningful standard between pleasure and addiction? People use the Internet and watch porn because they are fun; neither one is a disease.”

But Obenberger said claims of Internet and pornography addiction are serious concerns for the adult entertainment industry.

“Extremely skeptical of these claims,” he said. “But porn addiction is the new wave of censorship, and it’s what they’re screaming about in Congress. All that is just poppycock.”

Pacenza is seeking $5 million in damages from IBM.

The case is Pacenza vs. IBM Corporation, CV-05831.

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