A civil jury in New York City is set to begin deliberating today whether Robert De Niro abused and discriminated against his longtime personal assistant, Graham Chase Robinson, and whether Robinson misused funds from the actor’s company, Canal, and stole office property including millions of frequent-flier miles before she quit in 2019 after 11 years on De Niro’s payroll.
Jurors spent eight days in a federal courtroom hearing dueling claims from De Niro, Robinson, their lawyers and a slew of witnesses regarding who was to blame for the fallout at the small office in Manhattan that runs the double Oscar winner’s personal and business affairs and is separate from his film production and film festival operations.
The trial, combing De Niro’s initial suit and Robinson’s countersuit, has opened a window on the privileged life of the celebrated actor, Tribeca Film Festival founder and owner of the Nobu restaurant and hotel chain.
On the witness stand last week, De Niro — who will be in the courtroom again today — denied bullying or harassing Robinson or paying her less than his longtime personal trainer because Robinson was a single woman.
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At one point, he erupted in court, crying, “Shame on you, Chase Robinson!” after telling one of Robinson’s lawyers, Andrew Macurdy, “There was never any lewdness or disrespect or weirdness that you’re trying to imply.”
Robinson’s tasks ranged from negotiating the actor’s movie-shoot “perk packages” to getting him to the hospital for a back injury. Robinson herself testified that De Niro required her to be reachable by phone at all hours — weekends, holidays and time off included — for tasks that ranged from negotiating his movie-shoot “perk packages” to getting him to the hospital for a back injury.
“It didn’t matter if you were in New York and the family was in Doha. It didn’t matter if, you know, you were in New York and they were in Australia,” she said on the stand, “You picked it up regardless of the time and then helped them with whatever they needed.”
She also said that De Niro would yell at her and call her a “bitch” to her face, and that he sometimes asked her to scratch his back — a task she found “creepy” and “just disgusting.”
Robinson testified that she had no romantic interest in De Niro, despite De Niro’s girlfriend, martial arts instructor Tiffany Chen, once emailing the actor to complain of Robinson’s “persistent manner and demented, imaginary intimacy with you.”
In court, Chen defended once comparing Robinson to the stalker played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the 1992 movie, Single White Female.
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“I don’t know if she became psychotic, but I think that she’s always had mental health issues,” Chen testified.
Robinson’s lawyers have said that their client’s psychological devastation — and her inability to work ever since — stemmed from working for De Niro and a hostile Chen, and then being sued and denied a settlement by the actor after she quit.
They are asking the jury to award Robinson unspecified monetary damages for “emotional distress and reputational harm.”
Richard Schoenstein, a lawyer for De Niro, dismissed these claims in his closing statement to jurors Wednesday.
“She’s not sad about back scratches or the b-word,” Schoenstein said. “She’s sad because she left Canal and she didn’t get what she wanted. And she may be sad because the matter plunged into litigation, but you can’t give her damages for that.”
Before Robinson quit, she was making $300,000 a year as De Niro’s director of production and finance at Canal — a lofty title De Niro said he gave her “because she wanted it” — and working remotely from Los Angeles, London and Spain, with her vacations paid for by the company.
De Niro is seeking to claw back the final years of Robinson’s salary, alleging that she walked out with items of company property, transferred millions of Canal’s frequent-flier miles to a personal account and habitually used office funds for rideshares on personal errands.
Robinson’s lawyers said that De Niro explicitly gave Robinson wide discretion on spending and expenses as part of her compensation package and that his accountants never raised any red flags. It was only after Robinson quit and demanded a settlement, they said, that Chen and a Canal lawyer began looking for problems.
“Defendants claim she is trying to rob them blind and steal all this money,” a lawyer for Robinson, Brent Hannafan, said in closing arguments Wednesday. “This is someone who, when she figured out she had mistakenly charged something to her personal AmEx card, wrote them a check and sent them a note. That’s how conscientious she was, that’s how loyal she was.”