Robert De Niro became upset in court on Monday during the trial initiated by his former employee, who has accused the actor of gender discrimination and workplace retaliation.
Graham Chase Robinson sued De Niro and his company, Canal Productions, in July 2021. Her original complaint sought US$12 million (over C$16.5 million) in damages for severe emotional distress and reputational harm, according to numerous reports.
The lawsuit was filed after Robinson, Canal’s former vice-president of production and finance, was sued by De Niro and the company in 2019 for alleged abuse of company credit cards and time theft.
De Niro, 80, took the stand Monday as the first witness in the New York-based trial. Journalists present in the courtroom said De Niro appeared “grumpy” and denied all allegations against him. At one point, De Niro spoke out of turn and insisted Robinson’s claims were “nonsense.”
In her filing, Robinson accused De Niro of making “vulgar, inappropriate and gendered comments” to her during her employment. She also claimed to have been underpaid, overworked and made to do gendered tasks such as laundry, despite being in an executive position. Robinson alleged that De Niro often called her names and made generalized, sexist remarks about women.
Robinson additionally claimed De Niro’s girlfriend, Tiffany Chen, pushed her to quit working for the Oscar winner because she was jealous of their professional relationship. Though Robinson’s legal team has argued she was a dedicated and exceptional employee, De Niro scoffed at the suggestion during his testimony.
When asked if he felt she was a conscientious employee, De Niro replied, “Not after everything I’m going through now.”
The Associated Press reported De Niro raised his voice twice during his testimony — and was asked by the judge to speak more quietly and slowly.
The first instance in which De Niro’s temper seemingly flared came in defence of Chen, whom De Niro said he makes his business decisions with. Throughout Monday’s court session, the jury was shown emails from Chen to De Niro in which she seemingly complained about Robinson. The Hollywood Reporter said that in one email Chen referred to Robinson and allegedly wrote: “This b—h needs to be put in her f–king place.”
Further correspondence between Chen and De Niro alleged Chen was suspicious of Robinson and felt she had a form of “imaginary intimacy” with the actor. De Niro did not deny this and testified that Chen “may have been right” to be suspicious.
Robinson’s lawyers argued she was never romantically interested in De Niro.
De Niro also appeared to grow irritable while discussing an incident that saw Robinson bring the actor to the hospital in 2017. After falling down a flight of stairs, De Niro said he “cracked his back” around 1 or 2 a.m., then called Robinson to bring him to the hospital about three hours later.
Robinson’s lawyers used the incident as an example of the type of tasks she was allegedly made to do for De Niro, often beyond work hours.
“I asked her to do anything within reason — within the confines of her job,” De Niro said, according to Deadline.
These tasks, De Niro said, regularly included schedule maintenance, making travel arrangements and buying gifts for De Niro’s loved ones.
“It’s not like I’m telling her to go out and scrape floors, mop floors,” De Niro said.
Robinson was employed by De Niro from 2008 to 2019. Her annual salary in the VP role at Canal Productions was around US$300,000 (about C$416,500), The Associated Press reported.
Robinson claimed De Niro refused to provide an employer reference after she quit her job at Canal Productions.
In the De Niro and Canal Productions lawsuit against Robinson, the company alleges she charged a large volume of personal expenses to her company card and transferred five million Delta SkyMiles to her own account. The suit also claims Robinson watched “astounding hours of TV shows” while at her job.
Prior to being handed the VP role, Robinson was an assistant to De Niro. He testified that despite the title change — which he said she was “pushy” about receiving — her assistant responsibilities had not changed, just the job title.
The trial is expected to last for two weeks until Nov. 10.
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