Schenectady district has deal pending in suit by ex-Steven Raucci worker

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Wednesday, November 24, 2010

SCHENECTADY -- The Schenectady school district has apparently reached an agreement that calls for a $250,000 payment to a former custodial supervisor who alleged years of on-the-job harassment by his boss, Steven Raucci, caused him health problems and drove him to retire, according to court papers and a person familiar with terms of the proposed settlement.

School district lawyer Patrick Fitzgerald III confirmed Tuesday that earlier this month, he and Ronald Kriss' attorney, Elena DiFio Kean, met with a mediator to discuss a settlement, and the talks were productive. DeFio Kean did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, which must be approved by the board of education, the district's insurance would cover $100,000 of the total amount.

"We're hopeful we'll be able to finalize the terms by Dec. 1" when the school board meets, Fitzgerald said. However, he declined to give specifics, noting, "Until the board approves the settlement, there is no settlement."

Federal court documents indicate the mediator met with the two sides on Nov. 11. Four days later, U.S. District Judge Glenn T. Suddaby signed off on the tentative settlement that dismisses Kriss' civil action after being advised by the mediator "that the parties in this action have entered into an agreement in settlement of all claims in this action."

In April, Raucci, 61, was found guilty of all but four of 22 counts, including arson, conspiracy and weapons offenses. He was acquitted of a high-level terrorism charge.

In June, he was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison for crimes committed while Raucci was the district's facilities director and a local CSEA union president.

Kriss worked for the school district from August 1998 to October 2006.

In the suit, filed in 2008, Kriss claims that in 2003 he worked in such a hostile environment and had such a turbulent work relationship with Raucci that he was diagnosed with anxiety disorder and eventually left the job and later filed for workers' compensation over anxiety and stress. The lawsuit alleges Raucci several times attempted to grab Kriss' genitals in what came to be known as the "man game." Besides Raucci, the suit names as defendants former Superintendent Eric Ely, now retired Human Resources Director Michael Stricos, the city school district and board of education.

Kriss testified at Raucci's trial that their turbulent work relationship damaged his health to the point that he put in for workers' compensation for anxiety and stress in a hostile work environment and a filed sexual harassment lawsuit against the district.

The district still faces lawsuits from several other past and present employees, including Deborah and Harold Gray, Barbara Tidball and James "Dan" Bacchus. Other legal actions have been dismissed.

However, Fitzgerald cautioned, "It would be inappropriate to read into the settlement of this case that it would have a bearing on any other case."

Paul Nelson can be reached at 454-5347 or by email at pnelson@timesunion.com.