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Robert De Niro on trial: Seven key takeaways from workplace abuse case

Graham Chase Robinson is facing off with her former boss Robert De Niro in a Manhattan courtroom. So far, there have been several scenes worthy of a Hollywood script, Amelia Neath writes

Thursday 02 November 2023 10:22 GMT
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<p>Robert De Niro on trial in Manhattan </p>

Robert De Niro on trial in Manhattan

A four-year legal battle has come to a head as Robert De Niro and his former employee face off at trial in a federal court in Manhattan.

The lawsuit was brought against the Hollywood actor by Graham Chase Robinson, 41, who worked for Mr De Niro between 2008 and 2019 at his company Canal Productions.

Mr De Niro also has sued Ms Robinson, seeking three years’ worth of her salary for allegedly stealing items such as airline points from him.

Alleged back-scratching, urinating while on the phone and ordering late-night martinis from ritzy restaurant Nobu have all been set against the Oscar-winning actor, who is being sued for $12m in damages for severe emotional distress and reputational harm.

Ms Robinson worked as the actor’s assistant, eventually being promoted to vice president of production and finance, before quitting the role after clashing several times with the star’s girlfriend, Tiffany Chen.

While Ms Robinson worked for the actor, she claims he “berated” her, called her names and made sexist comments.

As the trial continues, Mr De Niro’s temper has stolen the spotlight after a few sudden outbursts in court, at one point shouting “Shame on you!” toward his former employee.

Here’s what to know so far:

Courtroom outbursts

During his testimony on Monday and Tuesday, Mr De Niro erupted several times in court.

When Ms Robinson’s lawyer accused him of bothering his client in the early hours of one morning in 2017 to take him to the hospital, he shot back, “That was one time when I cracked my back falling down the stairs!”

He claimed that he called his employee once time at around 4am or 5am, after delaying calling her for hours after falling down the stairs earlier in the night.

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Mr De Niro insisted that Ms Robinson was treated well at work and spoke about her overseeing preparations for a new townhouse he bought with his girlfriend, Ms Chen.

“It is not like I’m asking for her to go out there and scrape floors and mop the floor,” he said. “So this is all nonsense!”

Mr De Niro shouted, “Shame on you, Chase Robinson!” towards his former employee after being questioned about an allegation that he liked her to scratch his back.

The outcry came moments after he said, “I don’t yell. You wanna dispute that? That’s one thing I don’t do.”

As the trial continued, other allegations were presented to the actor, which resulted in him snapping back and calling the claims “nonsense.”

Andrew Macurdy, one of Ms Robinson’s lawyers, asked Mr De Niro whether it was true that he would sometimes urinate while he spoke with his assistant on the telephone.

“That’s nonsense,” De Niro answered. “You got us all here for this?”

Mr Macurdy told De Niro he called Robinson “b**** to her face.”

“I was never abusive, ever,” the actor snapped back, though he admitted that he might have used the word in conversations with her.

Funeral phone calls

Amongst the various allegations set against Mr De Niro was Ms Robinson’s claim that he called her twice while she was at a family member’s funeral.

He was allegedly trying to get hold of her to get her to buy his teenage son a bus ticket.

When he was asked about this in court, the actor replied, “So?”

He denied knowing that she was at a funeral at the time.

"I don’t know if they were putting the body in the ground or at a wake or something," Mr De Niro reportedly said while testifying, according to Insider.

Back-scratching

Mr De Niro’s back made a second mention in court, not for being injured it this time, but for allegedly saying he preferred that Ms Robinson scratched his back rather than using a back-scratching device.

Ms Robinson’s lawyer alleged that when his client suggested he used a scratching device, he replied, “I like the way you do it.”

The actor said that it may have happened once or twice but said it “never was with disrespect or lewdness”.

"You got me! I’m saying this is nonsense," he snapped. "It was never done with any disrespect."

After this, he gave an angry stare to Ms Robinson and blurted out his “Shame on you!” outcry before glancing at Judge Lewis J. Liman and uttering an apology.

A late-night Nobu martini

Mr De Niro was also questioned about Ms Robinson’s claim he ordered “a particular martini” from Nobu at 11pm, a restaurant chain he co-owns.

“One time, you really wanted a particular martini at Nobu, and you asked her to deliver it for you, yes?” Mr Macurdy asked, reports Insider.

“That would have been one time,” he stated in reply.

‘Imaginary intimacy’

One question that circulated in the courtroom was if the boss and former employee had something more than a professional relationship.

Mr Macurdy denied that his client ever had any form of romantic interest in Mr De Niro.

“None,” he said. “There was never anything romantic between the two of them.”

Despite this, Mr De Niro’s girlfriend, Ms Chen, claimed she has suspicions to believe otherwise, resulting in a feud between the actor’s partner and Ms Robinson.

Ms Robinson’s lawyer said that trouble brewed between the two when Ms Chen became jealous that her boyfriend communicated well with his assistant, often relying on her for a whole range of tasks.

Correspondence between Mr De Niro and his girlfriend was shown in court, showing that she had become suspicious of Ms Robinson.

Ms Chen believed that her boyfriend’s assistant had an “imaginary intimacy” with him.

“She felt there was something there, and she may have been right,” Mr De Niro said of his girlfriend’s suspicions.

When Ms Robinson filed the lawsuit against her employer in 2019, she claimed that Mr De Niro had initiated "gratuitous unwanted physical contact," made "sexually charged comments," and treated her as his "office wife," according to NBC, but has not yet been mentioned in court.

He allegedly gave her "stereotypically female job duties that were inconsistent with her job title, which, according to The New York Post, included putting away his underwear, washing his sheets and setting the table; however, these claims are yet to be described in court.

Mr De Niro claimed in his lawsuit that despite her promotions and a change of job title, her duties regarding the actor’s personal and professional life did not change, said The New York Times.

Name-calling and gender-based discrimination

Along with possibly calling Ms Robinson a “b****,” Mr De Niro has so far admitted to “berating” his former employee and agreed that he may have called her  “petulant,” “snippy” and a “f***ing spoiled brat.”

“I got angry that one time,” he said. “I berated her. I wasn’t abusive. I was upset.”

“You called her a brat,” Mr Macurdy said.

“I could have,” Mr De Niro answered.

Ms Robinson also claims her salary was less than what a male employee would get, alleging she was given less because of her gender, The New York Times reports.

The lawsuit revealed Mr De Niro’s personal trainer was paid more than her, but the actor claimed this was because he worked for him much longer than she had.

Swindled air miles

Mr De Niro filed a lawsuit against Ms Robinson in August 2019, claiming that during her time working for him, she stole from him, including five million air miles that can be exchanged for fights.

The actor is seeking three years’ worth of her salary back from her.

During his testimony, Mr De Niro was asked if Ms Robinson had been a disloyal employee.

“Disloyal? I don’t know. Whatever. I wanted to get her because she stole stuff from me, and I wanted to get it back.

“The whole case is nonsense; it’s ridiculous,” he said, according to The New York Post. “I wanted my things back; that’s all I’m asking. Return my things, return my air miles. Enough is enough.

“She had taken things from me and not done the right thing. I asked her to return them, but she didn’t do the right thing. She asked me for a letter of recommendation, which under no circumstances would I ever, ever, ever sign,” he added, reports the outlet.

The actor did admit he told Ms Robinson she could take “one to two million” air miles from the company for emergencies but trusted she would do it “in reason.”

He also added in his lawsuit that she watched “astounding hours of TV shows” while she was on the clock, although this has yet to be mentioned in the courtroom.

After leaving the company in 2019, Ms Robinson claimed that Mr De Niro refused to supply her with a job reference and, since then has been unable to find another place of work.

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