The trial on gender discrimination and retaliation allegations against and his rental company Canal Productions began their testimony Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, with De Niro taking the stand as the first witness.
The lawsuit is based on claims made by Graham Chase Robinson, Canal’s former vice president of production and finance claimed that De Niro had made “vulgar, inappropriate and gender-specific comments” toward Robinson, underpaid and overworked her because of her gender, and called her a “spoiled brat” in a profanity-filled voicemail when she didn’t answer a phone call. Additionally, she claims that as a manager, she continued to be tasked with gender-specific tasks such as mending clothes and doing laundry, among other tasks.
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“Robert De Niro is someone who clings to old ways,” the complaint says. “He does not accept the idea that men should treat women as equals. He doesn’t care that gender discrimination in the workplace is against the law. Ms. Robinson is a victim of this attitude.”
Her claim of retaliation stems from correspondence and interactions with De Niro’s friend Tiffany Chen, who she alleges pushed her out of the job after she became jealous of her interactions with De Niro and her role in her life.
In her original lawsuit, Robinson sought at least $12 million in damages.
Their lawsuit was filed in July 2021 after De Niro’s Canal Productions filed a $6 million lawsuit against Robinson in New York state court in August 2019, alleging that Robinson, the vice president of production and had been the company’s finances, abused the company’s credit cards, and watched “amazing hours of television” while on the clock.
Robinson’s team claims that the lawsuit filed against her is retaliation after Robinson resigned from Canal Productions and her lawyer informed De Niro that she was considering filing a gender discrimination lawsuit against him.
In July 2021 a Federal judge allowed De Niro to reassert the claims he asserted in state court in response to the lawsuit Robinson filed against him.
Eight jurors were selected Monday and both sides made their opening statements, with Robinson’s attorney calling them “loyal employees” and pointing to emails from Chen to De Niro in which she allegedly said, “This bitch needs to be put in her place.” after a conflict over the painting of De Niro’s townhouse. The defense claimed that while Chen was “a little stubborn at times,” there was no retaliation and “no romantic relationship” between De Niro and Robinson. They further argue that the case involves a “breach of trust” between De Niro and Robinson and that Robinson billed the company for an “extraordinary” amount of personal expenses and transferred five million Delta SkyMiles to her account before she planned to leave the company.
De Niro took the stand as the first witness called by the plaintiff’s attorney and, under questioning by the attorney, denied the claim that she demanded that Robinson do “anything and everything” as part of her job, saying he was “cautious” about the jobs he asked her to do, adding: “I don’t like that suggestion.” This was after he agreed with Robinson’s advice that he called her at 4:30 a.m. after he injured his back, but he said it was a one-time event.
In support of his attorney’s opening statement, he also said that although Robinson’s title had changed from assistant to vice president of finance and production, she had been “pushy” and asked for that title, but her responsibilities had not changed.
“The job is what it is,” De Niro said. “The titles weren’t important.”
De Niro continued to address questions posed by the plaintiff’s attorney, with both parties at one point raising their voices and being instructed by Judge Lewis J. Liman to tone down and speak more slowly.
“You don’t have to sign up or not, you just have to answer the question,” Liman once told De Niro.
While De Niro agreed that Robinson and Chen had come to a disagreement over moving paintings around his townhouse to prepare to become a painter, he posited that “Robinson was disrespectful to her time.”
“I wanted everyone to be happy and play well,” he said. “Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
His testimony and cross-examination by his attorney are expected to continue Tuesday. The trial is expected to last until November 10th.
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