Robert De Niro blurted out ‘This is all nonsense!’ in frustration on the first day of a trial in New York City resulting from his former personal assistant’s lawsuit that accuses the actor of being an abusive boss.
The Oscar-winner seemed grouchy and initially appeared to restrain himself from erupting until it was all too much for him as his interactions with Graham Chase Robinson were dissected by lawyers.
Robinson worked for De Niro between 2008 and 2019 and was paid $300,000 annually before she quit as his vice president of production and finance.
The woman, tasked for years with everything from decorating De Niro’s Christmas tree to taking him to the hospital when he fell down stairs, has sued him for $12 million in damages for severe emotional distress and reputational harm.
Robert De Niro leaves Manhattan Federal Court after testifying in the case filed against him by Graham Chase Robinson for gender discrimination and abuse
De Niro’s former assistant Graham Chase Robinson pictured leaving federal court on Monday
Robinson said he refused to give her a reference to find another job when she quit in 2019 after repeated clashes with his girlfriend.
De Niro, 80, testified through most of the afternoon, agreeing that he had listed Robinson as his emergency contact at one point and had relied on her to help with greeting cards for his children.
But when a lawyer for Robinson asked him if he considered her a conscientious employee, he scoffed.
‘Not after everything I’m going through now,’ he said.
De Niro twice raised his voice almost to a shout during his testimony.
The first time, when he was defending the interactions his girlfriend had with Robinson, saying, ‘We make decisions together.’
The second time occurred when Robinson’s lawyer tried to suggest that De Niro bothered his client early in the morning to take him to the hospital in 2017.
Robinson was De Niro’s emergency contact.
‘That was one time when I cracked my back falling down the stairs!’ De Niro angrily snapped.
In August 2019, actor Robert De Niro sued his former assistant, Graham Chase Robinson, for binge-watching ‘Friends’ on the job and stealing millions of frequent-flyer miles
Robinson, who worked for De Niro between 2008 and 2019, was paid $300,000 annually before she quit as his vice president of production and finance
Robinson was tasked for years with everything from decorating De Niro’s Christmas tree to taking him to the hospital when he fell down stairs
Even in that instance, he added, he delayed calling Robinson, making it to his bed after the accident at 1am or 2am, but then later summoning her at 4am or 5am.
De Niro was asked why he didn’t get his then-wife Grace Hightower, to help get him to hospital.
‘She was sleeping, I didn’t want to bother her,’ the actor said.
Repeatedly, Judge Lewis J. Liman explained the rules of testimony to De Niro and that there were limits to what he could say.
‘Can I ask a question?’ De Niro asked in one exchange with Robinson’s lawyer. The request was denied.
Then he De Niro asked: ‘What’s all this about a vacation?’
Judge Lewis Liman smiled but warned the Academy Award winner, ‘I’m the one who asks the questions.’
De Niro insisted that he treated Robinson well even after he bought a five-bedroom Manhattan townhouse and let Robinson oversee some of the preparations so he could move there with his girlfriend, 45-year-old Tiffany 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!’
Correspondence between De Niro and Chen that was shown to jurors demonstrated that Chen became increasingly suspicious of Robinson’s motives, saying she thought Robinson acted like she was De Niro’s wife and believed that she had ‘imaginary intimacy’ with De Niro.
Robinson said in her suit how De Niro would sometimes yell at her and call her nasty names in behavior consistent with sexist remarks he made about women generally
Robinson’s suit accuses De Niro of forcing her to assume the role of his ‘office wife’
‘She felt there was something there and she may have been right,’ De Niro said in defense of his girlfriend’s suspicions.
In opening statements that preceded De Niro’s testimony, attorney Andrew Macurdy said Robinson has been unable to get a job and has been afraid to leave her home since leaving the job with De Niro.
He said De Niro would sometimes yell at her and call her nasty names in behavior consistent with sexist remarks he made about women generally.
Macurdy said the trouble between them arose when Chen became jealous that De Niro relied on Robinson for so many tasks and that they communicated so well.
He said his client never had a romantic interest in De Niro.
‘Chase Robinson never had any romantic interest in Mr. De Niro. Zero, none. He was her boss and that was all,’ he said.
‘There was never anything romantic between the two of them.’
Hannafan, on behalf of Robinson, added that Chen was ‘jealous’ of the relationship.
At one point, De Niro testified how Chen had told him that Robinson was ‘in love’ with him.
De Niro said he first disagreed with his girlfriend but had since bought into her thinking.
‘I said I could not believe that, but now, looking in hindsight, maybe she had a point,’ he testified.
De Niro went on to tell jurors that his former assistant had in fact ‘disrespected’ his girlfriend.
De Niro’s lawyer outlined how Robinson called Chen a ‘b****’, ‘w****’ and ‘psychopath’ – and would read De Niro and Chen’s private messages in secret.
In one particular text message sent by Chen to De Niro in January 2019, she wrote how Robinson believes ‘she’s your wife.’
‘Her possessive manner over the house makes me very uncomfortable, down to having the cable bill and the security system password be [in] her name. It’s all very weird and she is not easing up with the weird s**t either. I do feel it’s getting worse,’ Chen wrote in court papers.
‘She thinks she’s your wife and I’m tired of her rearranging things and throwing my stuff on the floor in chaos whenever she decides she wants to be the ‘lady of the house’ it’s very bizarre and it really has to stop,’ Chen texted.
The trial, which involves both De Niro’s original suit and Robinson’s countersuit, is expected to last two weeks
De Niro’s attorney, Richard Schoenstein, said Robinson was treated very well by De Niro ‘but always thought she deserved more.’
He described De Niro as ‘kind, reasonable, generous’ and told jurors they would realize that when they hear the testimony of others employed by De Niro’s company, Canal Productions, which has countersued Robinson.
Schoenstein described Robinson as ‘condescending, demeaning, controlling, abusive’ and said ‘she always played the victim.’
In Robinson’s suit, she accuses De Niro of forcing her to assume the role of his ‘office wife.’
After De Niro’s suit was filed against her in August 2019, she accused him of assigning her ‘stereotypically female job duties that were inconsistent with her job title.’
Robinson claimed the actor made her put away his boxers, wash his sheets, and set his table.
The suit also alleges that ‘De Niro would direct Ms. Robinson to scratch his back, button his shirts and prod him awake when he was in bed.’
Furthermore, states the filing, ‘De Niro also stood idly by while his friend slapped Ms. Robinson on her buttocks.’
The former production company employee says that De Niro would also exhibit various forms of creepy behavior including ‘urinating during telephone calls’ and greet her wearing only his ‘pajamas or a bathrobe.’
De Niro’s legal team allege that Robinson misused a company Amex to treat herself to lavish vacations, hang bags, dinners, and gadgets
Graham Chase Robinson worked for De Niro from 2008 until 2019 when she says she was forced to resign. De Niro’s production company then filed suit against her
The civil trial is expected to last two weeks. Robinson’s legal team will reportedly introduce more than a dozen voicemails and a number of text exchanges between De Niro and Robinson, as well as De Niro and his girlfriend, Tiffany Chen.
In a 51-second undated voicemail recording that Robinson once received, the Hollywood legend threatens her in an expletive-laden rant.
‘You f***ing don’t answer my calls. How dare you? You’re about to be fired. You’re f***ing history. This is bulls***. How dare you f***ing disrespect me? You gotta be f***ing kidding me, you spoiled brat! F*** you!
Brent Hannafan, one of the attorneys representing the scorned assistant said ahead of the trial: ‘Ms. Robinson is ready to tell her story to the jury.’
‘He would berate her. He would make her life difficult,’ Hannafan said, telling the jury how De Niro ‘was a really demanding boss.’
‘He called Chase a b**** to her face repeatedly’, noting how De Niro also had her perform demeaning and physically objectionable tasks.
‘He asked her to literally scratch her back,’ the lawyer explained.
‘He would joke with Ms. Robinson about his Viagra prescription. De Niro smirked to Ms. Robinson about his young paramour, who was around Ms. Robinson’s age,’ her suit said.
‘Her discrimination and retaliation claims are compelling and the evidence supporting them is clear. We believe when all the testimony has been heard, the jury will agree with us that De Niro discriminated and retaliated against Ms. Robinson.’
De Niro arrives at the federal court on Monday
De Niro departs federal court on October 30, 2023 in New York City
De Niro departs federal court on Monday
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,’ Schoenstein explained.
Robinson claims that she began working for the actor and businessman’s company as an executive assistant in 2008 – when she was 25 – ultimately rising to the position of vice president of production and finance before being ‘forced to resign’ in 2019.
De Niro claimed Robinson suddenly exited her position – for which she was compensated $300,000 annually – when ‘suspicions arose’ pertaining to her ‘honesty, integrity, work ethic and motivation.’
His legal team allege that Robinson misused a company Amex to treat herself to lavish vacations costing tens of thousands of dollars, charged Ubers and dogsitters to his credit card, purchased designer hand bags and treated herself to pricey dinners and gadgets even after she had left De Niro’s employment.
The suit further accuses the entertainment executive of ‘loaf[ing] during work hours’, ‘binge-watching astounding hours of TV shows on Netflix’ and ‘stole millions of De Niro’s frequent flyer miles.’