The trial on gender discrimination and retaliation charges against Robert De Niro and his loan-out company, Canal Productions, began on 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 trial stems from claims brought by Graham Chase Robinson, Canal’s former vp of production and finance, who alleged that De Niro had made “vulgar, inappropriate and gendered comments” to Robinson, underpaid her based on her gender, and overworked her. She also claimed that De Niro called her a “spoiled brat” in an expletive-filled voicemail when she did not pick up a phone call. In addition, Robinson alleges that she was still asked to perform gendered tasks, such as mending clothing and doing laundry, while in an executive position, among other allegations.
“Robert De Niro is someone who has clung to old mores,” the complaint states. “He does not accept the idea that men should treat women as equals. He does not care that gender discrimination in the workplace violates the law. Ms. Robinson is a casualty of this attitude.”
Her retaliation claim stems from correspondences and interactions with De Niro’s girlfriend Tiffany Chen, who she alleges pushed her out of the job after growing jealous of her interactions with De Niro and her role in their lives.
In her original complaint, Robinson sought at least $12 million in damages.
Her lawsuit, filed in July 2021, came after De Niro’s Canal Productions had filed a $6 million lawsuit against Robinson in New York state court in August 2019. The company alleged that Robinson had abused company credit cards and watched excessive amounts of TV shows during work hours. Robinson’s team argues that the lawsuit filed against her came in retaliation after Robinson resigned from Canal Productions and her counsel informed De Niro that she was considering bringing a gender discrimination suit against him.
In July 2021, a federal judge allowed De Niro to re-plead the claims he had made in state court in response to the suit Robinson had filed against him.
Eight jurors were selected on Monday, and both sides conducted their opening arguments. Robinson’s counsel called her a “loyal employee” and presented emails from Chen to De Niro, in which she allegedly said, “This bitch needs to be put in her fucking place,” after a conflict over painting De Niro’s townhouse. The defense claimed that while Chen was “sometimes a little opinionated,” there was no retaliation and no romantic relationship between De Niro and Robinson. They further argued that the case involved a “breach of trust” between De Niro and Robinson and highlighted Robinson’s personal expenses charged to the company and five million Delta SkyMiles transferred to her account before planning to leave the company.
De Niro took the stand as the first witness called by the plaintiff’s counsel and pushed back on claims of asking Robinson to do “anything and everything” as part of her job, stating he was “careful” about what jobs he asked her to do. He also disagreed with Robinson’s counsel on several points but agreed that he had called her at 4:30 a.m. after hurting his back, emphasizing that it was a one-time occurrence.
Regarding Robinson’s change in job title from assistant to vp of finance and production, De Niro said, “The job is what it is. The titles were not important.”
During cross-examination, both parties raised their voices at one point and were told by the judge to keep their voices down and speak more slowly. De Niro was reminded by Judge Lewis J. Liman to answer the questions directly.
While De Niro agreed that Robinson and Chen had disagreed over moving paintings in his townhouse, he stated that “Robinson was disrespectful to her period.” He expressed his desire for everyone to be happy and play nice, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
De Niro’s testimony and cross-examination by his counsel are expected to continue on Tuesday, and the trial is projected to last until November 10.
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