Jury awards Robert De Niro’s ex-assistant $1.2m for sexist workplace discrimination

A jury has awarded Robert De Niro’s former personal assistant $1.2m after ruling that his company, Canal Productions, subjected her to workplace gender discrimination and retaliation.

The jury found that De Niro was not personally liable for gender discrimination or retaliation against his former employee Graham Chase Robinson, 41.

A beaming Ms Robinson declined to comment as she left the courthouse. One of her attorneys, David Sanford, said she was “thrilled” with the verdict in comments outside the New York federal court.

He said the jury had effectively awarded Ms Robinson four years’ salary, equal to the length of time she had been out of work since leaving Canal in 2019.

“Not only did Ms Robinson win her case against Canal but the jury completely vindicated Ms Robinson by finding De Niro’s claims against her to be without merit,” Mr Sanford said.

De Niro, 80, faced off with his former employee in duelling misconduct claims in the Manhattan federal court, which saw the two-time Oscar-winning actor’s personal life and explosive temper come in for close scrutiny.

Robert De Niro exits federal court after attending closing arguments in the civil trial (Associated Press)
Robert De Niro exits federal court after attending closing arguments in the civil trial (Associated Press)

Ms Robinson was hired as an executive assistant at De Niro’s vanity company Canal Productions in 2008, and alleged he created a workplace environment that was hostile to women and forced her to perform demeaning tasks like washing his sheets.

She testified that De Niro forced her to become his “work wife” and subjected her to abusive outbursts and unwanted physical touching such as back scratches.

The jury was asked to deliver verdicts on whether De Niro and Canal were liable for gender discrimination and retaliation against Ms Robinson, but only Canal was found liable. Ms Robinson had asked for $12m in damages but was awarded $1.26m.

De Niro alleged in a countersuit his former assistant had taken five million Delta air miles from the company, binge-watched Netflix during work hours, racked up $35,000 in unauthorised Uber trips, and paid for expensive restaurant dinners and fancy groceries on her company credit card.

They also had to decide whether Ms Robinson was liable for taking the frequent flyer points, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of a duty of loyalty. The jury ruled on Thursday afternoon that she was not liable.

De Niro attended closing arguments in the case on Wednesday, but was not in court to hear the verdict.

His lawyer Richard Schoenstein told The Independent outside court that the verdict was a “great victory” for the actor.

“He is absolved, he is notable for anything that was charged against him. There’s a modest award against the company, but they were looking for $12m.”

Graham Chase Robinson was awarded $1.2m in damages by the jury (Getty Images)
Graham Chase Robinson was awarded $1.2m in damages by the jury (Getty Images)

Taking the stand in week one of the trial, De Niro exploded in the witness box as he yelled “Shame on you” across the courtroom at Ms Robinson.

He admitted asking his former assistant for back scratches, calling her for help at all hours, and asking her to buy gifts for his children.

But he denied there had been anything lewd or inappropriate about their professional relationship.

Ms Robinson worked her way up to a $300,000-a-year vice president of production and finance role at the time she quit the company in April 2019. She demanded equal pay with De Niro’s personal trainer of 40 years Dan Harvey, who earned $375,000.

She told the court she had been terrified of speaking up about the alleged gender discrimination out of fear of reprisals from De Niro.

Ms Robinson said she decided to sue after the actor refused to pay $600,000 in severance, provide her with six letters of recommendation and issue a press release announcing her departure.

The trial heard that Ms Robinson had a testy relationship with De Niro’s ex-wife Grace Hightower, before falling out spectacularly with his current girlfriend Tiffany Chen.

Text messages shown in court revealed Ms Chen had effectively issued an ultimatum to fire Ms Robinson and believed she had an “imaginary intimacy” with De Niro.