MANHATTAN (CN) — In closing arguments Wednesday in a legal fight between Robert DeNiro and his former assistant, Robert De Niro’s attorneys painted that assistant as disloyal, whiny and overly indulgent in her spending habits.
Sporting a black jacket and gray polo shirt, De Niro showed up in court for the occasion. It was the first time he appeared in court since he took the stand last week.
In a nod to De Niro’s decades-long reputation in entertainment, Richard Carl Schoenstein, an attorney for the actor’s company Canal Productions, framed his final arguments in court as if he were pitching a film.
“Welcome to the end of the movie,” Schoenstein said.
The legal drama began when Graham Chase Robinson, De Niro’s former assistant, resigned from Canal in 2019 after 11 years. De Niro, who is well-known for his roles in “Goodfellas” and “Taxi Driver,” then filed a lawsuit accusing Robinson of stealing frequent flyer miles and overusing her company credit card.
Robinson sued De Niro two months later, claiming harassment and gender discrimination.
In court on Wednesday, Schoenstein depicted Robinson as someone who simply found her job stressful and sued when she didn’t get what she wanted — including a pay raise, letters of recommendation and travel flexibility.
In Schoenstein's telling, Robinson tried leaving Canal multiple times over the course of her 11-year employment. When De Niro asked her to stay, she requested increased flexibility in where she worked, pay raises, job title adjustments and increased benefits.
By the time she left Canal, Robinson earned a $300,000 a year salary, was reimbursed for unused vacation days, was allowed to use the company’s frequent flyer miles for personal and work-related travel and received gym reimbursements.
After her resignation, Robinson requested severance, two years of medical coverage, five recommendation letters and a press release explaining her departure.
“When she doesn’t get that, she brings claims,” Schoenstein said.
Canal did not have written policies or procedures for employee expenses and benefits, according to testimony from Robinson, De Niro and Canal employees.
But, De Niro repeatedly said during his testimony, he relied on an honor system and trusted his employees would act within reason.
Schoenstein argued Robinson abused that honor system — saying she “acted in her own self-interest, not in the interest of Canal." He cited her meal charges, Uber rides and use of frequent flyer miles.
He also tried to depict her as someone who overly complained about her job. “I cannot listen anymore to [Robinson] talk about how her job is stressful,” Schoenstein said.
Schoenstein said Robinson had failed to show gender discrimination. Robinson had argued De Niro discriminated against her by assigning her to work on a five-bedroom Manhattan townhouse which he was moving into with his girlfriend Tiffany Chen.
Schoenstein argued that Chen, who Robinson had a tense relationship with, didn’t like her because of her conduct — not because of her gender.
“She had every right to have an opinion about who was working in her home,” Schoenstein said.
Robinson also said she was retaliated against when stripped of her job duties at the townhouse. But Schoenstein pointed to Robinson’s testimony that she never wanted to be assigned to the townhouse in the first place and had repeatedly asked De Niro to move away from those responsibilities.
“She’d been saying that for months!” Schoenstein yelled.
Schoenstein also criticized Robinson's performance on the stand, pointing to her long-winded answers.
De Niro “can be blunt, Chen can be colorful, but Robinson could not answer a question,” Schoenstein said.
While Schoenstein illustrated his arguments with dramatic flair, Robinson’s attorney Brent A. Hannafan relied on a slide presentation that displayed texts, emails and testimony shown in court over the past week.
While Schoenstein said Robinson couldn’t answer a question, Hannafan criticized De Niro’s memory. On one slide, he listed as many times as he could fit in which the actor answered a question with some variation of “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.”
“I don’t even have enough space on this page to get all of these,” Hannafan quipped.
Hannafan showed text messages and testimony in which De Niro referred to Robinson as a “bitch,” “nasty,” and as a “fucking spoiled brat.” He also pointed to emails and texts from Chen where she said Robinson wanted to be “lady of the house,” referring to the townhouse Chen and De Niro were moving into, and said she was an “insecure, territorial girl.”
All this language, Hannafan said, was gendered.
He also argued that Robinson didn’t abuse her company credit card and benefits at Canal because De Niro had said spending on transportation, meals and miscellaneous expenses were up to her discretion.
“If it was up to her discretion, what were they complaining about?” Hannafan said.
At the end of his arguments, Hannafan urged the jury to consider the case’s public nature and to make a decision that “sends a message.”
“They bullied her," Hannafan said. "De Niro is one of the most well-known powerful men in the entertainment industry, and she stood up to him."
U.S. District Judge Lewis J. Liman, a Donald Trump appointee, pushed back, calling this an inappropriate argument.
Liman will give instructions to the jury on Thursday, when they are expected to deliberate.Follow @NikaSchoonover
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