By Will Potter For Dailymail.Com and Dan Bates In New York and Kayla Brantley For Dailymail.com
22:27 31 Oct 2023, updated 07:10 01 Nov 2023
- De Niro is facing allegations of gender discrimination by a former staffer
- His former assistant Graham Chase Robinson is being sued in the same trial
- The actor alleges that Robinson improperly spend funds while working for him
Robert De Niro admitted in a Manhattan court that he ordered his former assistant to scratch his back, angrily declaring: ‘You got me!’
The actor, 80, is facing accusations he discriminated against his former assistant Graham Chase Robinson, 41, in a four-year legal battle that went to trial on Monday.
His former staffer Robinson has accused the actor of gender discrimination while working for his company, Canal Productions. De Niro’s company initially sued Robinson alleging improper spending of the company’s accounts.
On the second day of the trial on Tuesday, De Niro became flustered and irate as he took to the stand to combat allegations he subjected Robinson to years of abusive language, unwanted physical advances and misogyny.
In a startling moment while on the stand, the Oscar-winning actor confronted his accuser and said before a stunned courtroom: ‘Shame on you, Chase Robinson! God da**it! I’m sorry.’
Robinson began working for De Niro in 2008 as his assistant, and eventually rose to the position of vice-president of Canal Productions. It has been reported that she had a salary of $300,000 when she resigned in April 2019.
She alleges in her lawsuit that De Niro treated her like an ‘office wife’, and made her perform menial tasks including washing his sheets and scratching his back. Robinson also alleges that she was paid less than a male employee she felt had similar responsibilities.
She is seeking $12 million in damages for severe emotional distress and reputational harm.
Her million lawsuit was quickly launched following an initial lawsuit by De Niro’s Canal Productions in August 2019, accusing her of improper spending including transferring over $450,000 worth of airline miles from the company to her own personal account.
She is also accused of spending tens of thousands more on personal items, food and travel and spending her days binge watching Netflix.
Both lawsuits are set to be decided in the same trial, which is expected to last two weeks.
On Tuesday, De Niro faced questioning over his alleged mistreatment of Robinson, including an incident where he allegedly ordered Robinson to scratch his back. When she asked if he could use a back scratcher, he refused as he liked the way she did it, the court heard.
The star grew visibly frustrated as he batted off questions, ultimately confessing that the back-scratching occurred on two occasions.
‘Okay, twice? You got me! I’m saying this is nonsense,’ he said on the stand. ‘It was never done with any disrespect.’
In a startling moment, De Niro then confronted his former employee, bellowing to the court: ‘Shame on you, Chase Robinson! God da**it! I’m sorry.’
Robinson’s attorneys sought to portray De Niro as a demanding boss, including by playing an audio recording of the actor calling her at 6:30am on a Sunday morning to get access to his computer.
De Niro participated in over five hours of testimony heard by the court Tuesday, offering a more detailed glimpse at the allegations against the 80-year-old.
As well as admitting to the back-scratching allegations, De Niro also acknowledged he has instructed Robinson to use Uber to order him a martini from the Nobu sushi lounge late at night.
Robinson claimed that he called her twice to interrupt her grandmother’s funeral in 2015 so she could buy his teenage son a bus ticket. When questioned about the incident, he replied: ‘So?’
He continued: ‘If I did then I did,’ adding he would have been ‘sensitive to it being a funeral.’
De Niro said that it may have been a wake and that Robinson may have said she could ‘talk at this point.’
He said: ‘It’s not like it’s a funeral where they’re putting the body into the ground, or whatever.’ A testy De Niro called the question ‘bull’ and stopped answering.
De Niro also defended possibly branding Robinson a ‘f***ing spoiled brat’, allegedly in a fiery message left for the staffer that was not played for the jury, but was included in her lawsuit.
He admitted he ‘raised my voice’ and that he was ‘upset’, because she had not woken him up for an important event he had to attend.
‘I could have too, I was upset,’ he said. ‘She didn’t wake me up and made me miss this thing in Malibu.’
Robinson’s attorney Andrew Macurdy said that De Niro ‘berated’ Robinson on the call and he conceded ‘that time I did.’
The second day of the trial was marked by tense back-and-forth’s from both sides, however there was a moment De Niro appeared to quip with his lawyer.
His attorney took objection to the questioning of his client and argued it was ‘improper impeachment’, to which De Niro replied: ‘Impeachment? Am I being impeached?’
‘Had to say it, sorry,’ he added as the courtroom broke out into laughter.
The actor also responded angrily to suggestions Robinson was not paid the same as his male trainer, as the court heard she requested to be paid the same as them in 2018.
He pushed back against suggestions she should have been paid the same as the trainer that had ‘traveled with me for 40 years, left his family to be with me for long periods of time.’
He said, ‘She’s jealous of him.’
De Niro was then asked if he spoke to Robinson on the phone while urinating. He protested: ‘I may have been in the bathroom. I didn’t realize I was talking. Come on! You got us all here today for this?’
Macurdy asked if De Niro told Robinson to use a coworkers’ sperm to get pregnant.
De Niro said: ‘I don’t remember saying it.’
Asked if he ever called Robinson a ‘b**** to her face,’ De Niro said he was ‘never abusive.’
The jury were shown email and text messages between De Niro and his girlfriend and the mother of his months-old child, Tiffany Chen, 45, due to allegations Chen pressured him to fire Robinson.
This included email exchanges between them at 2am on March 2, 2019, where Chen said: ‘If you keep her (Robinson) you and I will have problems’. Chen called Robinson ‘f****** rude’ and a ‘dismissive b****.’
She said: ‘I don’t know how you don’t see it. You don’t want to see it because you’re too close to her.’
De Niro replied that he agreed and Robinson’s behavior was ‘unacceptable.’
Chen replied: ‘I’m not going to be happy until you tell me she’s looking for a replacement. Keeping her around is just a slap in my face.’
Macurdy asked if De Niro agreed this was an ‘ultimatum.’
De Niro replied: ‘You call it an ultimatum, I don’t’. He told the jury he thought that it was a request from Chen for Robinson to stop working at their townhouse.
‘No one tells me what to do in my office. Period!’ he added.
Further emails shown to the jury included Chen claiming Robinson had a ‘crush’ on the now-80-year-old, where she wrote, ‘The more I find out the most disgusted I become.’
Chen also claimed that Robinson had a ‘fantasy relationship’ with De Niro.
By April 2, 2019, Robinson requested that she stop working at their home because of tension in the house, suggesting she did not want a repeat of the clashes between De Niro’s previous personal assistant and Grace Hightower, his ex-wife.
After reading the email, Chen reacted with fury and emailed De Niro: ‘This s**** really p***** me off,’ branding Robinson ‘so manipulative.’
She said: ‘This b**** needs to be put in her f****** place.’
In another email Chen wrote to De Niro saying: ‘She’s (Robinson’s) got a f****** nerve with the claims she’s making in that email.’
Four days after that incident, emails sent by Chen were also shown to the court that revealed she asked De Niro’s accountants to probe Robinson’s spending habits.
That same day, Robinson quit, emailing De Niro she had been ‘loyal, protective to the point of alienating others’ and having worked ‘beyond hard work’ with 80-90 hour weeks.
When Robinson first filed her lawsuit four years ago, her attorney argued on Tuesday that she did so after first trying to quit her role in November 2018 but was prevented by De Niro after he warned he would give her a bad job reference.
Asked about the allegations, De Niro brushed them off and replied: ‘You’re saying I threatened her? I don’t do that. She worked for me, I treated her with respect.’
When questioned over whether De Niro kept Robinson on with a ‘carrot and stick’, an angry De Niro replied: ‘What carrot and stick? I don’t know what you’re talking about. That’s not my way.’
De Niro said that they ‘negotiated’ and came to an arrangement – her salary was increased from $200,000 to $300,000 a year.
He said: ‘I was going through a divorce, I was moving. I said this is not a good time. I knew what she was doing. She picked a time to say she was going to leave. It was not like I said you have to do this. We talked it over.’
Macurdy again asked if the ‘carrot’ was an increased salary.
De Niro angrily said: ‘Carrot? I needed her. It wasn’t a carrot. It wasn’t being tough one minute and nice the next. A lot was going on and I needed her to help me.’
On June 11, 2019, a few months after Robinson eventually quit, she wrote to him asking why he was refusing to give her a letter of recommendation for the London School of Economics.
De Niro was also asking her to sign a legal waiver which would have prevented her from suing him and his company.
Robinson suggested a severance package of two years of her $300,000 salary, two years of medical coverage and a meeting with De Niro.
The court was shown messages from Chen to De Niro in which she told him that if Robinson quit, he did not have to pay severance.
De Niro responded: ‘I know but I’ll do what’s right.’
De Niro rejected the idea that Chen was in control of the situation, telling the court: ‘She (Chen) had to have an opinion (but) what I’m going to do, I’m going to do.’
Five days later Chen brought it up again and De Niro once again brushed off the idea his girlfriend was calling the shots.
He said: ‘I don’t care what she was saying. Maybe she was upset. I have to do what I have to do. She didn’t understand certain things.’
De Niro reacted with fury when Robinson threatened to hire lawyers after she resigned from his company Canal Productions, the court heard.
Angry text messages between the film star and Chen were also shown to the court.
In the July 2019 message, De Niro said: ‘Can you believe Chase. Who the f*** does she think she is?’
Chen replied: ‘She thought she was your wife. I saw it from the beginning. I told you.’
De Niro replied: ‘The ba**s. The nerve. The chutzpah. The sense of entitlement. How dare her!’
Chen said: ‘Tom will get her,’ referring to De Niro’s lawyer who was preparing to write a letter accusing her of stealing company money.
He then alleged that while he may not brand her ‘disloyal’, he ‘wanted to get her because she stole stuff from me.’
He continued: ‘The whole case is nonsense, it’s ridiculous… 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 told the court: ‘How much of this abuse am I going to take? This whole case is nonsense. It’s absurd.’
Robinson’s attorney argued that Canal Productions only filed their lawsuit first because the staffer had threatened legal action, and the company wanted to ’embarrass her’ in the public eye before she filed her own lawsuit.
‘I don’t care about the press,’ De Niro fired back, in one of the most hostile exchanges of the day’s proceedings.
‘I cared about her giving my stuff back and doing the right thing,’ he added. ‘I didn’t want to ruin her. I have no control over the press. She’s more press-oriented than I am. She should have thought, ‘I’ll give the air miles back.’ Case closed, done.’
He said he told Robinson she had permission to take up to two million airmiles from the company account for emergencies, but assumed she would act under an ‘honor system’ not to abuse the privilege.
He claimed she was ‘taking liberties’ but he struggled to pinpoint specific incidents where she allegedly abused that system.
Nor could he name any taxis that his company paid for and he now claims were for personal reasons.
De Niro said in his lawsuit that Robinson quit in April 2019 after ‘suspicions arose’ about his staffers’ ‘honesty, integrity, work ethic and motivation.’ He added on Tuesday that when he finally received her resignation, he was ‘relieved.’
De Niro’s legal team have suggested Robinson ‘always played the victim’ and was a money-hungry ex-employee.
‘It’s nice to work for a movie star, but it can be mundane,’ De Niro’s attorney, Richard Schoenstein explained.