A scary thought: Internet pornography rooms at work
August 24, 2007
James Pacenza suffers post-traumatic stress disorder caused in part by watching his best friend call out to him after being shot, then dies while serving in Vietnam in 1969. Pacenza, by his own admission, admits to trying to self-medicate his Internet and sex addictions by spending time on the Internet viewing inappropriate Web sites even while at his desk at IBM.
In January 2003, Pacenza was observed by a co-worker visiting inappropriate Internet sites, viewing offensive material that was graphic, even pornographic. He was formally warned that he could lose his job if he continued to engage in sexual chat room conversations. Four months later while Pacenza was away from his desk, a co-worker hit a key to bring up the screen (a screen saver was showing). He saw a chat room session that, because this is a family newspaper, we can only describe as offensive and sexual in nature. The court opinion has more details lots more. Interestingly, how the co-worker happened to hit a key on Pacenzas keyboard is not discussed in the case. Pacenza was summarily fired despite a 15-year history with IBM.
So did James Pacenza acknowledge he had an Internet addiction problem? Did he assume responsibility for his inappropriate work place behavior? Did he ask for help with his well-documented sex addiction?No. Why assume responsibility for your own behavior when you can sue IBM for $5 million claiming the Internet sex addiction was caused by stress incurred during a horrific tour of duty in Vietnam a protected addiction that must be accommodated allowed under the Americans with Disability Act per Pacenza. Pacenza is not alone in claiming excessive Internet use is an uncontrollable addiction. A recent Stanford Medical School report concluded that 14 percent of Americans show addiction symptoms with regard to the Internet. In one extreme case a 24-year-old died after playing an online game nonstop for 86 hours. I wonder who his family sued? Sony? Controllable or uncontrollable, excessive Internet use is a growing problem.A Dr. David Greenfield of the University of Connecticut School of Medicine authored the 1999 book Virtual Addiction. He concludes compulsive Internet use is an addiction like alcoholism, drug abuse or pathological gambling. Fortunately, in my humble opinion, his is the minority view.To date neither Internet addiction nor sexual addiction involving the Internet like visiting adult chat rooms while at work are protected under the ADA. If they were, employers would have to provide work place accommodations for employees with those symptoms, which is a scary thought if you are an employer.Thats what Pacenza v. IBM is all about.
IBM has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. As I would expect, the preliminary ruling from the Federal Court in New York favors IBM, although as the attorneys involved in the case told us, its not over yet.If an employee must be allowed to self-medicate his or her psychological problems by visiting adult chat rooms while at work, it will be impossible to regulate Internet use in the workplace. Although it might make for a more interesting workplace, employers should not be accommodating sex addicts with chat room visits as an ADA-protected addiction.Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Bipartisan McPherson Commission and the California Fair Political Practices Commission. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firms web site http://www.portersimon.com. 2007