Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

De Niro seeks directed verdict dismissing discrimination suit by ex-assistant

De Niro's attorneys say "the only one applying gendered stereotypes is" his former assistant.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Attorneys for Robert De Niro’s company Canal Productions moved for a directed verdict Tuesday, arguing the actor’s former assistant failed to demonstrate she was discriminated against based on her gender.  

Chase Robinson resigned in 2019 after working at Canal for 11 years. De Niro, who most recently starred in director Martin Scorsese's “Killers of the Flower Moon,” then filed a lawsuit through Canal accusing Robinson of abusing her company credit card and stealing frequent flyer miles for her own personal use.

Two months later, Robinson sued De Niro claiming harassment and gender discrimination.

Canal Productions and De Niro argued there isn’t any evidence to show gender discrimination or retaliation.

“The only one applying gendered stereotypes is [Robinson] herself,” Laurent Scott Drogin, one of De Niro’s attorneys, said Tuesday.

Robinson claimed she was discriminated against because she was paid less than Dan Harvey, De Niro’s personal trainer of 40 years. But Drogin argued that Robinson received compensation in other ways that Harvey did not, including reimbursement for unused vacation days, unlimited sick days, a $100 a month gym reimbursement and a $100 a day meal allowance.

Drogin also argued that while Robinson claims she was disrespected and targeted at Canal, she never references her gender.

He added that there isn’t any evidence to show that Tiffany Chen, De Niro’s girlfriend, disrespected Robinson because of her gender.

But Alexandra Harwin, one of Robinson’s attorneys, said Chen’s comments about her were motivated by gender.

In emails shown in court, Chen called Robinson a “bitch” who needed to be “put in her fucking place.”

“Those are gendered comments,” Harwin said.

U.S. District Judge Lewis J. Liman, a Donald Trump appointee, adjourned for the day without ruling on the motion.

Robinson finished her testimony Tuesday after two full days on the stand, in which she spoke about De Niro’s behavior while she worked as his assistant and said she ultimately resigned after experiencing a “mental and emotional breakdown.”

Richard Carl Schoenstein, an attorney for Canal, asked Robinson on Tuesday if there was anything she’d do differently at Canal. Robinson answered that she regretted calling Chen a “sociopath” and saying that she was “fucking nuts.”

“I never thought it would be played during a court proceeding,” Robinson said. “I do regret making comments like that."

Schoenstein also showed photographs of property Canal said Robinson took after her resignation and did not return until 2020, including office supplies, credit cards, an iPhone containing information related to De Niro’s divorce, more than $4,000 in cash and $19,000 worth of gift cards.

Robinson said she did not return the materials until after Canal filed its lawsuit.

She was also asked about Canal’s harassment and anti-discrimination policies.

Though she said she never filed a formal complaint, she had spoken to Canal’s head attorney Tom Harvey about getting harassed in the workplace.

“I feared [De Niro’s] response, I feared what he would do to me, I feared for my reputation,” Robinson said when asked why she didn’t file a formal complaint.

Additionally, Schoenstein pushed back on Robinson’s claim that De Niro yelled at her “quite often.” In a phone call played in court, Robinson is heard saying that De Niro had not yelled at her in four or five years.

When Brent Hannafan, one of Robinson’s attorneys, asked her to clarify, Robinson said she meant it had been four or five years since “someone got him to yell at me for them.”

Hannafan also asked Robinson about the first time De Niro had called her a “bitch.” She said it had happened late at night in the office when De Niro called her, cursing, and she had asked him to stop.

Judge Liman stopped Robinson during her answer and told her to keep her answers short.

“Counsel, please control your witness,” Liman said.

Over the course of Robinson’s last day of testimony, Liman got increasingly frustrated at her long-winded answers.

“Ma’am. If you exceed the scope of the question one more time, I’m going to have to strike or take other action,” Liman said.

He often struck her answers from the court transcript when she answered more than asked.

Robert L. Goldstein, a psychiatrist acting as an expert witness, then took the stand.

He said after consulting Robinson’s medical records and other materials relevant to the lawsuits, she seemed to have generalized anxiety disorder, a psychiatric condition that results in excessive anxiety and difficulty functioning.

According to Goldstein, Robinson seemed to experience excessive anxiety about her health, career and future. She also seemed to have difficulty managing her social relationships and functioning professionally.

She also showed difficulty sleeping and weight loss, both symptoms related to generalized anxiety disorder.

He also said that since 2020 when she first began seeing a psychiatrist, her condition has not changed much.

It’s “not possible to predict how this illness will turn out,” Goldstein said, saying he cannot gauge if it will get better, worse or stay the same.

Follow @NikaSchoonover
Categories / Employment, Entertainment, Trials

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.