Robert De Niro’s production company on Thursday was found liable for gender discrimination and retaliation claims brought by his former personal assistant—though the Oscar winner himself was personally cleared of those same accusations.
Graham Chase Robinson, 41, was awarded more than $1.2 million in damages by the jury. She was simultaneously found not liable for accusations of financial misconduct—including the embezzling of frequent flyer miles—brought by De Niro’s Canal Productions.
Her attorney, David Sanford, told The Daily Beast in a statement that they were “delighted” by the outcome. “Not only did Ms. Robinson win her case against Canal but the jury completely vindicated Ms. Robinson by finding De Niro’s claims against her to be without merit,” he said.
De Niro, 80, was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read aloud, according to the Associated Press. He attended closing arguments earlier in the day, and spend two days on the witness stand early last week.
The decision, which came after a whirlwind eight days of testimony and five hours of deliberation, brings to a close a legal battle ongoing since Robinson’s stormy departure from Canal in April 2019. The company’s lawyers sued her soon after, accusing her in a complaint filed that August of, among other things, wasting “astronomical amounts of time” watching television on the job before filching five million Delta SkyMiles from De Niro amid her exit.
Robinson fired back with a countersuit two months later, claiming her 11 years at Canal were defined by De Niro’s bullying and harassment. She said her boss had “attacked her in gender terms,” underpaid her, and frequently released expletive-laden tirades against her.
While testifying last Tuesday, the actor denied her claims, calling them “nonsense.” His lawyers portrayed him as a victim of a woman scorned, alleging Robinson was looking to cause “drama and conflict.” He allowed, however, that he might have called Robinson a “bitch” and a “fucking spoiled brat” in instances where her behavior frustrated him.
“I berated her,” he said. “I wasn’t abusive. I was annoyed.”
He also claimed that, while he’d raised his voice to her before, “I don’t yell.” Shortly after, he erupted on the stand, turning to his former assistant, who was in court that day, and crying, “Shame on you, Chase Robinson!”
Robinson took the stand on Thursday and Friday, with her lawyers attempting to paint her as a loyal employee beleaguered by her boss’ “creepy” requests and abusive behavior.
Beginning at Canal as De Niro’s executive assistant in 2008, Robinson was elevated to director of production in 2011 and vice-president of production and finance in 2017, though she claimed in her lawsuit that, though her salary rose from $75,000 to $300,000, her duties changed very little over that time.
What’s more, Robinson testified, she was treated as De Niro’s “office wife,” subjected to “stereotypically female job duties” that were “inconsistent with her job title,” including scratching his back. (The actor acknowledged in court that he had made the back-scratching requests, adding, “You got me!”)
While De Niro’s team claimed Robinson left Canal after “suspicions arose” over her “honesty, integrity, work ethic and motivation,” the 41-year-old said in her countersuit that she’d been forced out by De Niro over escalating tensions with his girlfriend of five years, Tiffany Chen.
In emails to De Niro shown in court, Chen called Robinson “a mean, insecure, territorial girl” who had dreamed up a “demented imaginary intimacy” with him.
Questioned about her emails on the stand, Chen held little back. “She’s crazy,” she said, adding at various points that Robinson was “a hot mess,” “nuts,” and “psychotic.”
Amid the final months of De Niro and Chen’s alleged abuse, Robinson said she’d suffered an “emotional and mental breakdown.” Her resignation left her emotionally unmoored and, her reputation in ruins, she was unable to secure another job or recover psychologically.
De Niro’s lawyers ended the trial by portraying him as a victim of a woman scorned, alleging in closing arguments that Robinson was just looking to cause “drama and conflict.”
“She’s not sad about back scratches or the b-word,” a De Niro attorney said, according to Deadline. “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.”