Robert De Niro at 2021 Tribeca Film Festival

Robert De Niro’s Trial Offers a Disturbing Look at How Women Are Treated in the Workplace

Robert De Niro is currently on trial for allegations of gender discrimination from his former assistant, Graham Chase Robinson. New details have surfaced this week, painting a disturbing picture of how women are treated in the workplace.

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While many are more focused on De Niro’s recent collaboration with Martin Scorsese in Killers of the Flower Moon, the actor is currently being sued for $12 million by Robinson. The trial stems from a harassment and gender discrimination lawsuit Robinson filed in 2019 after De Niro and his company, Canal Productions, sued her for $6 million for allegedly breaching her contract and misappropriating funds. However, Robinson alleges that the lawsuit was filed in retaliation after she informed De Niro of her intent to sue. De Niro’s suit, which alleges Robinson used company funds for unauthorized luxury purchases, stole millions of airline flight rewards points, and spent work time binge-watching Netflix, has not gone to trial yet.

In the meantime, the trial for Robinson’s gender discrimination suit is officially underway. Robinson was hired as De Niro’s personal assistant in 2008 but was promoted to vice president of Canal Productions in 2017. Despite the promotion, she alleges that her tasks remained the same over the course of her career. Robinson is now seeking damages for emotional distress, claiming that De Niro berated her, made “unwanted physical contact” with her, assigned her housekeeping duties, allowed his partner Tiffany Chen to mistreat her, and underpaid Robinson in comparison to male employees. Meanwhile, De Niro’s testimony hasn’t done much to disprove her claims.

Robert De Niro’s concerning testimony and court outbursts

Graham Chase Robinson leaving court in New York City
(David Dee Delgado, Getty Images)

On October 31, De Niro took the stand to testify in his defense in the Robinson case. In his testimony, De Niro admitted to several of the allegations Robinson directed at him, but largely shrugged them off and even questioned why the court cared about some of his actions. De Niro admitted to asking Robinson to scratch his back and expressed anger that it was being used against him, saying, “Every little thing she’s trying to get me on is nonsense!” He also admitted to berating Robinson, recalling one instance when she didn’t wake him up on time. De Niro says he lost his temper and called her a “f*****g spoiled brat,” among other names.

De Niro also didn’t dispute the allegations that he gave Robinson odd duties more commonly associated with a housekeeper than a personal assistant. He said Robinson did “anything and everything within the confines of her job working for me as my assistant.” This included helping with De Niro’s pets, finding plants for his home, contacting divorce attorneys for him, and assisting Chen. In addition, De Niro didn’t dispute claims that he had Robinson on call 24/7 and suggested he saw no problem with calling her while she was at a funeral. When the funeral incident was brought up in court, De Niro responded, “So?”

De Niro also defended paying his personal trainer, Dan Harvey, more than Robinson, suggesting she was “jealous” of Harvey. Meanwhile, his anger at Robinson hasn’t been limited to past incidents. During his testimony, De Niro had an outburst and yelled “Shame on you!’ at Robinson. He also had to be reprimanded for speaking over his own lawyers.

What De Niro’s testimony says about women in the workplace

In addition to De Niro’s admissions, incriminating texts and audio have surfaced. Audio recorded in 2019 captures De Niro promising to “destroy” Robinson for disrespecting him. Meanwhile, text messages and e-mails between him and Chen paint a disturbing picture, too. The pair gossiped about Robinson and called her names over text messages, with De Niro claiming, “Who the f**k does she thing [sic] she is?!?!” Chen was allegedly jealous of Robinson and contributed to the hostile work environment. In one text message to De Niro, she wrote, “She [Robinson] thought she was your wife. I saw it from the beginning. I told you.” De Niro himself also suggested that Chen was right that Robinson had romantic feelings for him, though she and her lawyers adamantly denied this claim.

It remains to be seen if the court will rule this evidence as instances of harassment or discrimination. Still, the trial offers disturbing insight into what women face in the workplace. What’s so shocking about De Niro’s testimony is how oblivious he seems. He genuinely doesn’t appear to think there is anything wrong with his treatment of Robinson. Which raises the question: Why does De Niro believe there’s nothing out of the ordinary about verbally abusing an employee, asking her to scratch his back, calling her during a funeral, and speaking ill of her behind her back to his wife? The only plausible answer is that Robinson is a woman.

What’s particularly striking is De Niro’s willingness to admit to his wrongdoings. He sees no problem in what he did, even expressing surprise that he’d be questioned about his behavior in court. Treating women poorly in the workplace is so normalized that a man feels this comfortable taking the stand, admitting to several concerning allegations, and saying of these instances, “So?” It’s clear that Robinson’s work environment was wrong. She was vice president of De Niro’s company, and her duties were—scratching his back and buying houseplants? She was vice president and making less than his personal trainer? On top of that, she was verbally abused, gossiped about, and allegedly treated terribly by a jealous Chen, while De Niro did nothing to prevent it.

Robinson’s case also raises questions about how commonplace such treatment is in Hollywood, where powerful men can apparently hire a woman to be their “work wife” while slapping on the false label of “personal assistant.” Considering how many years Robinson worked for De Niro, it seems unlikely no one would notice his treatment of her or that she was “vice president” only in title and not in duties. De Niro’s certainty that he’s in the clear and the fact that Robinson’s experience took so long to come out suggests that this is fairly typical in Hollywood.

But every aspect of Robinson’s experience—being berated, demeaned, and accused of being romantically involved with her boss—can happen in any occupation, not just Hollywood. However, not every instance will make headlines. The outcome of the trial remains to be seen, but it’s important to acknowledge that Robinson’s treatment was not appropriate and that this should never be considered the norm for women—or anyone—in the workplace.

(featured image: Pool / Getty Images)

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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.