The trial on gender discrimination and retaliation charges against Robert De Niro and his loan-out company, Canal Productions, began 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 arises out of 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, calling her a “spoiled brat” in an expletive-filled voicemail, when she did not pick up a phone call. Additionally she alleges that she was still asked to perform gendered tasks, such as mending clothing and doing laundry, while an executive, among other allegations.
More from The Hollywood Reporter
“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, alleging that Robinson, who had been the company’s vp of production and finance, had abused company credit cards and binged “astounding hours of TV shows,” while on the clock.
Robinson’s team alleges 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’d made in state court in response to the suit Robinson had filed against him.
Eight jurors were selected Monday and both sides conducted their opening arguments, with Robinson’s counsel calling her a “loyal employee” and pointing to the 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. 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 argue that the case involves a “breach of trust,” between De Niro and Robinson and that Robinson had charged an “extraordinary” amount of personal expenses to the company and transferred five million Delta SkyMiles 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 when questioned by counsel pushed back on claims of asking Robinson to do “anything and everything,” as part of her job, saying he was “careful” about what jobs he asked her to do, adding “I don’t like that implication.” This came after he agreed with Robinson’s counsel that he had called her at 4:30 a.m. after hurting his back, but he said that it was a one-time occurrence.
He also said, in support of his counsel’s opening statements, that while Robinson’s title changed from assistant to vp of finance and production, she had been “pushy” and asked for that title, but that her responsibilities hadn’t changed.
“The job is what it is,” De Niro said. “The titles were not important.”
De Niro continued to push back on questions asked by the plaintiff’s counsel, with both parties raising their voices at one point and being told by Judge Lewis J. Liman to keep their voices down and speak more slowly.
“You don’t need to subscribe or not subscribe, you just need to answer the question,” Liman told De Niro at one point.
While De Niro agreed that Robinson and Chen had come to a disagreement over moving paintings in his townhouse to prepare for painters, he posited that “Robinson was disrespectful to her period.”
“I wanted everybody to be happy and play nice,” he said. “Unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
His testimony, and cross-examination by his counsel is expected to continue Tuesday. The trial is expected to last until Nov. 10.
Best of The Hollywood Reporter