UPDATED, 3:09 PM: Robert De Niro took the stand Monday in a New York City civil case alleging that he harassed and overworked his longtime executive assistant, and the Oscar-winning actor quickly turned combative under questioning from a lawyer for his accuser, calling the ex-employee’s allegations — and her lawyer’s line of questioning — “nonsense.”
“I asked her to do anything within reason — within the confines of her job,” De Niro snapped at the lawyer, Andrew Macurdy, who is representing Graham Chase Robinson in her federal lawsuit against the Killers of the Flower Moon star. The two-time Oscar winner was responding to having a line read back to him in court from an earlier deposition in which he testified that Robinson did “anything and everything” the assistant job required.
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“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” De Niro said, adding, “I don’t like that implication.”
Robinson’s lawsuit, filed after she quit the job in 2019, alleges that De Niro made sexual jokes in her presence and that one of her tasks as personal assistant was to scratch his itching back. In opening arguments, another lawyer for Robinson, Brent Hannafan, said that when Robinson suggested he just use a back scratcher, De Niro replied, “I like the way you do it.”
Monday’s testimony was more focused on the hours that Robinson kept while working for De Niro, and her contention that she was required to be on call at all hours and to keep him apprised of her whereabouts and travel plans at all hours — holidays, birthdays and weekends included, or when she went for a run.
Robinson’s hours were “civilized,” De Niro testified during more than 90 minutes on the stand, saying he only summoned her at odd hours in a crisis, such as when he fell down a staircase in his house and called her after 4 a.m. to help him get to the hospital.
At one point, De Niro gently was admonished by Judge by Lewis J. Liman for talking over objections from one of his own lawyers.
De Niro is expected to resume testifying on Tuesday.
He is countersuing Robinson, alleging that she abused a company charge card for personal expenses and vacations. The eight-person jury also will decide whether she is liable for stealing from De Niro and Canal, the company that managed his personal and business affairs.
“This is not the story of a helpless woman subject to discrimination by her employer,” Richard Schoenstein, a lawyer for De Niro, told jurors. Schoenstein said that Robinson, who worked for De Niro for 11 years, created discord and drama at De Niro’s office, “manufactured grievances” against fellow employees — some of whom will testify against her — and blamed others for her behavior.
PREVIOUSLY, 11:16 AM: Opening arguments in a workplace civil case pitting actor Robert De Niro against his former executive assistant, Graham Chase Robinson, will begin this afternoon in a federal courtroom in Manhattan, with De Niro himself expected to testify today under direct examination by one of Robinson’s lawyers.
An eight-person jury has been chosen Monday to hear the case, which Judge Lewis J. Liman said will take two weeks. Jurors will have to decide claims contained in dueling lawsuits filed in 2019: whether the Killers of the Flower Moon star subjected Robinson to gender harassment and underpaid her in violation of New York laws, and whether Robinson, who quit the job in 2019, misused funds while at De Niro’s company, Canal, and took valuables when she left.
Attorneys for both sides spent part of the morning hashing out objections to elements of each other’s planned opening statements and arguing whether to admit trial exhibits including emails and voice recordings.
The two-time Oscar-winning actor was not in the courtroom for the proceedings before lunch but will be the first witness called to the stand, according to Robinson’s lawyers. Robinson sat between members of her five-person legal team, quietly watching and listening as the lawyers sparred and Liman interviewed potential jurors.
Today’s trial pulls together both De Niro’s initial suit and Robinson’s countersuit.
Each blames the other for a troubled working relationship that ended with Robinson resigning that spring. Their legal complaints offer starkly different pictures of what went on between the Oscar winner for Raging Bull and The Godfather and the woman who spent 11 years on the payroll of De Niro’s company, Canal Productions.
De Niro sued first, claiming Robinson embezzled $6 million in company funds, used a corporate card for personal expenses, spent hours watching Netflix at De Niro’s Manhattan townhouse while on the clock, and stole millions of frequent-flier miles on her way out the company door.
Robinson, in her original filing, said that an “enraged” De Niro knew he would soon be facing court claims of gender discrimination, harassment and wage theft, and struck first with an “abusive, preemptive lawsuit” full of “false allegations designed to inhibit Ms. Robinson from pursuing her claims, destroy her reputation, and obliterate her job prospects.”
She said that none of the allegations contained in De Niro’s lawsuit was ever raised with her while she worked for him.
Robinson was 25 years old when she signed on in 2008 to be De Niro’s executive assistant. She alleges that she often worked 11-hour days without breaks attending to De Niro’s personal needs and endured routine humiliation in the role of “office wife,” even as she climbed the company ladder to become director of productions and, later, vice president of production and finance.
“De Niro subjected Ms. Robinson to gratuitous unwanted physical contact,” her lawsuit charges. “He made sexually-charged comments to her …. assigned her stereotypically female duties like housework, and insisted that she be available to him around the clock.”
“Among other things,” the lawsuit states, “De Niro would direct Ms. Robinson to scratch his back, button his shirts, fix his collars, tie his ties, and prod him awake when he was in bed. De Niro also stood idly by while his friend slapped Ms. Robinson on her buttocks.”
“He would joke with Ms. Robinson about his Viagra prescription,” according to the lawsuit. “De Niro smirked to Ms. Robinson about his young paramour, who was around Ms. Robinson’s age. De Niro directed Ms. Robinson to imagine him on the toilet. He told Ms. Robinson that doing manual labor would ‘make a man out of you.’ De Niro suggested that Ms. Robinson could get pregnant using sperm from her (married) male co-worker.”
Robinson alleges that De Niro also “underpaid her because she was not a male breadwinner and denied her overtime pay even though she worked punishingly long hours.”
In court filings surfaced by Puck, De Niro and his much-younger girlfriend, martial arts instructor Tiffany Chen, described Robinson as jealous, territorial and possibly in love with her boss — and furious that Chen had arranged to have Robinson stripped of duties at De Niro’s townhouse.
According to these documents, when Robinson threatened to resign, De Niro gave her a raise to an annual salary of $300,000 to keep her happy.
Dominic Patten contributed to this report.