Think about who your emergency contact is, the first person to be notified if something happens to you. It’s someone close and important, of course. In Robert De Niro’s case, it’s not any of his seven children (five of whom are of age), his girlfriend or any family member. For a decade, the 80-year-old New York star’s emergency contact was Graham Chase Robinson, his personal assistant, who later became the vice president of his company. She is the same person with whom De Niro has been at loggerheads for four years and against whom lawsuit proceedings began at the Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday. The case features mutual accusations, in which jealousy, discrimination, harassment, sexism and emotional damage all play a part, topped off by a lawsuit in which Robinson is demanding $12 million. That fiery combination led to De Niro screaming in court on Monday.
The history between Robinson, now 41, and De Niro dates back to 2008. Back then, she was just 25 years old, and the actor hired her to work as his personal assistant. She was responsible for everything: taking calls, organizing his schedule, setting up the Christmas tree in his house, and even taking him to the hospital. In 2017, Robinson was promoted to the position of vice president of production and finance at Canal Productions, the actor’s company, but she essentially continued to perform the same tasks. Her annual salary was $300,000 (about €285,000).
Things started to go awry in 2018 and broke down completely in 2019, when De Niro sued Robinson and she responded with a countersuit. In 2018, the actor bought a house on New York’s Upper East Side and he asked his assistant (who was then his vice president) to help his partner, martial arts instructor Tiffany Chen (the couple has been together since 2015, and she gave birth to his seventh child in the spring), decorate and set up his home. “I wanted it all to work. I wanted everyone to be happy and play nice,” the actor testified in civil court in New York on Monday.
It didn’t work out. As lawyers explained at trial, Chen began talking to De Niro, telling him that she noticed his assistant had “romantic interests” in him, that she believed Robinson had “an imagined intimacy” with the actor. That’s when the situation became tense. “She felt there was something there and she may have been right,” the actor said of Chen in his court testimony. Robinson’s lawyer studiously denied that his client had ever been romantically interested in De Niro and explained that retaliations began against her at that point. Meanwhile, the star’s lawyer asserted that Robinson had always been treated very well by De Niro, “but she always thought she deserved more.”
The contractual relationship ended then, and in 2019, De Niro decided to sue Robinson. He accused her of taking advantage of the circumstances in which she worked and of using the company’s and the actor’s money for her own benefit. For example, he claims that she improperly transferred frequent flier miles worth over $450,000 that were for the company and the actor, and moved them to her own personal air miles account to take her own trips. He also claimed that she had wasted thousands upon thousands of company dollars on “extraordinary” charges on the company’s credit card for travel, meals, hotels and expenses of all kinds; for example, he accuses her of charging the cost of a personal trip to Los Angeles, California, under false pretenses when she was really attending a friend’s birthday party. The bill for the luxury hotel was $2,608.66 (about €2,500). In addition, De Niro’s lawyers claim that Robinson did not perform her work and spent hours watching shows on Netflix; they have filed documents that claim that she watched 55 episodes of Friends, 20 episodes of Arrested Development and 10 episodes of Schitt’s Creek during her working hours for four days in January 2019. Canal Productions’ charges against Graham Chase Robinson are for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of duty of loyalty and conversion (for the airline miles she allegedly took).
‘You spoiled fucking brat!’
Robinson obviously has a perspective on the matter. After De Niro initiated the lawsuit, she filed a countersuit in October 2019, demanding $12 million from the actor’s company. She claims that since her departure from the company, she has been unable to find another job and that it is difficult for her to leave the house.
Specifically, the star’s former employee is suing for damages for severe emotional distress and reputational harm. She argues that she suffered “gender harassment” and that De Niro would yell at her, call her “nasty names” and engage in “gratuitous unwanted physical contact” with her. In fact, she claims he made sexist comments about many women. In the trial, the assistant has referred to Harvey Weinstein, now sentenced to prison, and has let it slip that the two men were regular collaborators. She has introduced a harsh audio recording in which De Niro is allegedly yelling at her after learning that she was spending time in Spain while he was in the U.S. Angrily, he screams “Fuck you!” several times and calls her a “spoiled fucking brat.” He adds, “How dare you fucking disrespect me! You always want another fucking position!”
In 2017 Robinson was named vice president of Canal, but that didn’t change her routine. She claims that she was being treated like an “office wife” who did everything De Niro demanded, from scratching his back to washing his sheets, mending his clothes and vacuuming to taking his calls at 4 a.m. when he had fallen and needed to go to the hospital; she was his emergency contact. De Niro counters that the accident happened at midnight, and he waited until a better time to call her. According to her version, she was assigned “stereotypically female job duties that were inconsistent with her job title”. On Tuesday, De Niro exploded against that accusation about scratching his back:“Every little thing she’s trying to get me on is nonsense! Shame on you, Chase Robinson”. He later apologized to the court, according to People.
Robinson also speaks of gender discrimination in her salary, claiming she was paid less than a male employee who had fewer responsibilities than she did. At the trial on Monday, De Niro’s lawyers claimed that the man she is referring to is the actor’s personal trainer, Dan Harvey, who has been working with De Niro for much longer (“What does Dan Harvey have to do with her?” asked the movie star on Tuesday. “She’s jealous of him?”), and “none of the things that happened occurred because she was a woman.” Rather, they argued that “all of this… add[ed] up to a serious breach of trust.” His attorneys also referred to De Niro’s former assistant using harsh adjectives, claiming she was “condescending, demeaning, controlling, abusive.” For her part, Robinson claims that she faced harassment because she was a woman and was subjected to sexist and unpleasant jokes, such as when he talked about his Viagra. She also contends that she endured a hostile work environment and gender discrimination, making the situation unbearable.
“It is not like I’m asking for her to go out there and scrape floors and mop the floor… So this is all nonsense!” De Niro shouted in court on Monday. He raised his voice twice, to the point that the judge had to remind him of the rules of decorum and what the boundaries were, during the hour and a half that De Niro spent on the stand. This Tuesday, in a new session, De Niro admitted that on occasions he “raised his voice, not shouted” at his assistant, and called her “petulant,” “snippy” and a “fucking spoiled brat.” There are still two weeks left to hear more insults and opposing versions in this media trial.
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