Robert De Niro filed a $6 million lawsuit against his ex-assistant, who accused the actor of gender discrimination and retaliation in a counter-lawsuit
Robert De Niro took the stand in a gender discrimination trial on Oct. 30, 2023.
After a years-long legal battle between De Niro, and his ex-assistant, Graham Chase Robinson, he appeared at a federal courthouse in New York City for the start of their civil trial.
Robinson, 41, worked for the actor and his production company for 11 years, ultimately resigning after being promoted to Vice President for Production and Finance in 2019. That year, the legal battle began when the actor and Canal Productions filed a $6 million lawsuit against Robinson.
De Niro and Canal Productions initially alleged that Robinson excessively binge-watched Netflix shows while working and abused her position to inappropriately use “her employer’s fund for her personal gain," including De Niro’s frequent flyer airline miles.
Robinson then sued De Niro and Canal Productions for alleged violations of the New York City Human Rights Law and is accusing the actor of gender discrimination and retaliation.
In addition to Robinson and De Niro's testimony, the jury heard from the actor's lawyer Tom Harvey, his accountant Michael Tasch, employees who worked with Robinson at Canal and Tiffany Chen, whom De Niro has been dating since 2018.
The civil trial was expected to last two weeks; however, a verdict was reached on Nov. 9, 2023.
Here's everything to know about the De Niro and Robinson's trial.
Who is Graham Chase Robinson?
Robinson used to work for De Niro at Canal Productions; she was first hired to be the actor's assistant at age 25 in 2008. She resigned from the company in 2019; at that time, she held the title of Vice President for Production and Finance.
When De Niro took the stand at a federal courthouse in N.Y.C. on Oct. 30 to be questioned by the opposing legal counsel, the Oscar winner agreed that Robinson "did anything and everything within the confines of her job," but objected to "the implication that it is anything and everything in my personal life."
When asked about tasks Robinson completed for De Niro's girlfriend Chen, the actor became visibly upset, explaining he and Chen "work together."
Other work tasks that Robinson's attorney Andrew Macurdy asked De Niro to explain included running operations at his townhouse, helping to furnish an apartment and creating Valentine's Daycards for his then-wife, Grace Hightower.
The cards, said De Niro, was "one of the few things [Robinson] was very good at."
Why did Robert De Niro and Canal Productions sue Graham Chase Robinson?
Canal Productions filed a $6 million lawsuit against Robinson after her departure from the company in 2019. The production company alleges that she binge-watched Netflix shows while working and that she abused her position to inappropriately use “her employer’s fund for her personal gain.”
When Canal Productions originally filed a lawsuit against Robinson in 2019, the company alleged she ran up major gratuities bills on the company's American Express card, used five million of De Niro's frequent flyer miles for personal trips and submitted false information to receive $70,000 for 96 days of "unused" vacation time.
The company also alleged that she spent tens of thousands of company dollars on personal expenses. The original lawsuit filing stated Robinson was making $300,000 per year when she “abruptly resigned” from the company via an email on April 6, 2019.
Why did Graham Chase Robinson sue Robert De Niro and Canal Productions?
In a $12 million counter-lawsuit, Robinson sued De Niro and Canal Productions for alleged violations of the New York City Human Rights Law, claiming that De Niro directed sexist comments and conduct at her.
She also claimed that De Niro assigned her "stereotypically female job duties that were inconsistent with her job title," and paid her less than a male employee due to gender-based stereotypes, per a release from Sanford Heisler Sharp, the law firm representing Robinson.
Robinson also alleged that De Niro's girlfriend, Chen, "falsely accused Robinson of being in love with De Niro." A release claims, "De Niro then retaliated after Robinson complained, stripping Robinson of her job duties and driving her to resign," in April 2019.
On Oct. 30, Brent Hannafan, partner at Sanford Heisler Sharp, said Robinson "is ready to tell her story to the jury,” adding that "her discrimination and retaliation claims are compelling and the evidence supporting them is clear."
How long did Robert De Niro's trial last?
After a years-long legal battle that began in 2019, De Niro appeared at a federal courthouse in New York City on Oct. 30, for the start of the civil trial.
The trial was expected to continue until Nov. 10, however, it came to an end on Nov. 9, 2023.
What were Robert De Niro's opening arguments during his trial?
In his opening statements, De Niro's attorney Rich Schoenstein said the conflict with Robinson, who he characterized as "the single most difficult person to work with at Canal," had “nothing to do with gender, everything to do with conduct.”
De Niro was first to take the stand at a federal courthouse in N.Y.C. on Oct. 30. He agreed with Robinson's legal counsel that Robinson "did anything and everything within the confines of her job“ but disagreed with "the implication that it is anything and everything in my personal life."
Texts and emails shared between De Niro and Chen will be used throughout the trial. One text message screenshot displayed in court called Robinson "a nasty b----," while Chen wrote that the plaintiff has an idea of “demented imaginary intimacy" in another.
When questioned about tasks that Robinson completed for Chen, De Niro stated that he and Chen "work together," and also testified on the stand that he now agreed with Chen about Robinson's alleged feelings for him.
“I was shocked by that, but now looking back, she might’ve been onto something," the actor said.
After Robinson's attorney Brent Hannafan claimed she "had to be on call all the time," the court was shown multiple email screenshots of Robinson letting De Niro know where she was on holidays and weekends.
The actor countered that his then-assistant's assigned working hours “were civilized," adding, "You’re making it out like I controlled her.” The issue that led to problems with Robinson's work performance, the Irishman star said, was that “instead of doing what she needed to do, she didn't."
“I believe in the honor system," De Niro said. “I only value work if it is done right, or else it reflects poorly on me.”
Also during opening arguments on Oct. 31, Robinson's attorney Brent Hannafan mentioned instances of De Niro insisting Robinson scratch his back and when she would decline he'd allegedly say, "I like the way you do it."
De Niro — who at one point admitted, "Yeah, fine, I berated her" — said on the stand it happened maybe "twice." He added, "You got me! I’m saying this is nonsense," and said of the back-scratching requests: "It was never done with any disrespect."
"Every little thing she’s trying to get me on is nonsense! Shame on you, Chase Robinson," De Niro said on the stand, soon apologizing for the courtroom outburst.
De Niro continued to be questioned by Robinson’s legal team, and the topic of SkyMiles came into conversation. As part of the lawsuit, the actor claimed Robinson stole 5 million Delta SkyMiles from him that he "didn't authorize" and has yet to return them.
De Niro, who said the understanding was that Robinson would take “1, maybe 2 million” miles, said, “I wanted those SkyMiles to be able to be used by my kids.” He added, “For obvious reasons, [the kids] were my priority,” referring to his seven children.
What was the verdict in Robert De Niro's gender discrimination case?
After nearly five hours of deliberations on Nov. 9, a jury in N.Y.C. federal court found the actor not personally liable, though his company Canal Productions was found liable for gender discrimination and retaliation against Robinson, according to Associated Press and Deadline.
The jury ordered Canal to pay $1.26 million in damages to Robinson.
A member of Robinson's legal team, David Sanford, chairman of Sanford Heisler Sharp, said in a statement, “We are delighted that the jury saw what we saw and returned a verdict in Chase Robinson’s favor against Robert De Niro’s company, Canal Productions."
"Not only did Ms. Robinson win her case against Canal but the jury completely vindicated Ms. Robinson by finding De Niro’s claims against her to be without merit," he added.
A rep for De Niro had no comment.
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