Calling his former assistant “petulant,” “snippy” and a “fucking spoiled brat” has cost Robert De Niro dearly. The 80-year-old actor has been ordered to pay $1.26 million in compensation to Graham Chase Robinson, 41, for gender discrimination and retaliation. On Thursday, a Manhattan court sided with the assistant over her claims against the Hollywood actor’s production company, Canal Productions. Additionally, Robinson — who worked as De Niro’s assistant for 11 years — has been cleared of misusing office funds.
De Niro sued Robinson in 2019 over alleged improper spending, and Robinson responded by countersuing. The case, however, only began this year on October 30, with hearings held over several days. De Niro attended court three times. His former assistant was also present on these occasions. The verdict has arrived somewhat earlier than expected. The jurors ruled that the actor must make two payments of $632,142 to her for each count, as reported by Associated Press.
De Niro was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read. Robinson was in court, and smiled and hugged her lawyers when she heard the verdict, according to Deadline. “We are delighted that the jury saw what we saw,” Robinson’s lawyer David Sanford said in a statement.
Robinson’s original lawsuit against De Niro sought $12 million. De Niro’s lawyers welcomed the fact that she was only awarded a fraction of that amount. “Obviously, they got it right as to Mr. De Niro, that’s for sure. So that’s gratifying,” said Richard Schoenstein, a lawyer for De Niro and Canal, according to Deadline. The verdict also does not find De Niro, but rather his production company, liable.
In 2008, De Niro hired Robinson to take care of his personal affairs, agenda, the management of his properties and daily errands. In 2017, he even promoted her to vice president of his company. In 2018, the actor bought a house on New York’s Upper East Side and he asked his assistant 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. But 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’s when the mutual accusations came. De Niro said that Robinson — who earned $300,000 a year — improperly transferred frequent flier miles worth over $450,000 that were for the company and the actor (although he later acknowledged that there were no strict rules regarding those miles), and that she watched Netflix in her working hours. In four days in January 2019, she watched 55 episodes of Friends, 20 of Arrested Development and 10 of Schitt’s Creek during her work schedule, according to his reports.
She counterattacked with accusations that went much further. She sued for damages for severe emotional distress and reputational harm. She argued 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. Robinson has not worked in four years, despite applying for 638 jobs. “I don’t have a social life,” she said. “I’m so humiliated and embarrassed and feel so judged. I feel so damaged in a way. ... I lost my life. Lost my career. Lost my financial independence. I lost everything.”
Robinson said that De Niro assigned her “stereotypically female job duties that were inconsistent with her job title,” such as scratching his back or vacuuming. She also said that the actor yelled at her, called her “nasty names” and engaged in “gratuitous unwanted physical contact” with her. “Every little thing she’s trying to get me on is nonsense!” said De Niro in court. “Shame on you, Chase Robinson.”
Finally, at the trial, De Niro admitted that he had scolded her on some occasions, but that he never had an abusive attitude. In a leaked voice mail, the actor is heard yelling at her after finding out that she was spending time in Spain, when he was in the U.S. “How dare you, you are absolutely fired you’re fucking history. How dare you with all the good things you do this is bullshit after Christmas. How dare you fucking disrespect me how much you did,” he is heard saying.
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