- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2007

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — A man who was fired by IBM for visiting an adult chat room at work is suing the company for $5 million, saying he is an Internet addict who deserves treatment and sympathy rather than dismissal.

James Pacenza, 58, of Montgomery, says he visits chat rooms to treat traumatic stress incurred in 1969 when he saw his best friend killed during an Army patrol in Vietnam.

In papers filed in federal court in White Plains, Mr. Pacenza said the stress caused him to become “a sex addict, and with the development of the Internet, an Internet addict.” He claimed protection under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

His lawyer, Michael Diederich, says Mr. Pacenza never visited pornographic sites at work, violated no written IBM rule and did not surf the Internet any more or any differently than other employees. He also says age discrimination contributed to IBM’s actions. Mr. Pacenza, 55 at the time, had been with the company for 19 years and says he could have retired in a year.

International Business Machines Corp. has asked Judge Stephen Robinson for a summary judgment, saying its policy against surfing sexual Web sites is clear. It also says Mr. Pacenza was told that he could lose his job after an incident four months earlier, which Mr. Pacenza denies.

“Plaintiff was discharged by IBM because he visited an Internet chat room for a sexual experience during work after he had been previously warned,” the company said.

IBM also said sexual behavior disorders are not covered by the ADA and denied any age discrimination.

If it goes to trial, the case could affect how employers regulate Internet use that is not work-related, or how Internet overuse is categorized medically. Stanford University issued a nationwide study last year that found that up to 14 percent of computer users reported neglecting work, school, families, food and sleep to use the Internet.

The study’s director, Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, said he was most concerned about people who hide their nonessential Internet use or use the Internet to escape a negative mood, much in the same way that alcoholics might.

Until he was fired, Mr. Pacenza was making $65,000 a year operating a machine at a plant in East Fishkill that makes computer chips.

Several times during the day, machine operators are idle for five to 10 minutes as the tool measures the thickness of silicon wafers.

It was during such downtime on May 28, 2003, that Mr. Pacenza logged onto a chat room from a computer at his work station.

Mr. Pacenza says he would have understood if IBM had disciplined him for taking an unauthorized break, but firing him was too extreme.

Fred McNeese, a spokesman for Armonk-based IBM, would not comment.

Mr. Pacenza says the company decided on dismissal only after improperly viewing his medical records, including psychiatric treatment, after the incident.

“In IBM management’s eyes, plaintiff has an undesirable and self-professed record of psychological disability related to his Vietnam War combat experience,” according to his suit.


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