De Niro appeared grouchy at time appeared to restrain himself from erupting as interactions between him and his former assistant were dissected before he could keep silent no longer.
The two-time Oscar-winning actor known for his performances in blockbuster movies like The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull was the first witness in a trial resulting from lawsuits over the employment of Graham Chase Robinson.
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.
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.
Once, it occurred as he defended the interactions his girlfriend had with Robinson, saying, ‘We make decisions together.’
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
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.
‘That was one time when I cracked my back falling down the stairs!’ De Niro angrily snapped.
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.
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.
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’
He 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, 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.
‘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.
‘None,’ he said. ‘There was never anything romantic between the two of them.’
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 ‘urinate 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 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.
“He called Chase a b**** to her face repeatedly’, adding that De Niro also had her perform demeaning and physically objectionable tasks.
“He asked her to literally scratch her back,” the lawyer explained.
‘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.’
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, hand bags, dinners, and gadgets.
The suit further accuses the entertainment executive of ‘loaf[ing] during work hours’ and ‘binge-watching astounding hours of TV shows on Netflix.’