Ex-IBM Worker: Chat Room Use an Illness

November 28, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A former IBM employee fired over his use of Internet chat rooms while at work has sued the computermaker over allegations his chat room use represented an addiction that should have drawn counseling and not termination.

An InformationWeek news report said that James Pacenza claimed in his suit that his chat room use was an outgrowth of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from his days as a soldier in Vietnam. Pacenza worked in the raw materials preparation and photolithography departments at IBM’s East Fishkill, New York plant until May 2003.

For example, on the day before he was fired, Pacenza said he wrote a letter to a fallen Vietnam comrade lamenting his death. Afterward, he ventured into an Internet chat room “as a brief diversion from work,” according to court papers.

Employees “with much more severe psychological problems, in the form of drug or alcohol problems … are allowed treatment programs” at IBM, Pacenza argued in his lawsuit, the news report said.

According to the news report, IBM insisted that Pacenza wasn’t fired specifically for using a chat room, but because “he logged on a Web site that contained sexual content on an IBM-owned computer during the workday.”

IBM said the instant messages that Pacenza sent and received on the site’s chat room included references to a sex act. IBM argued that while it has employee counseling services available, it knew of no specific ailment from which Pacenza suffered.