NEW YORK (AP) — A jury awarded more than $1.2 million to Robert De Niro’s former personal assistant Thursday, finding one of his companies responsible for subjecting her to a toxic work environment.
While the jury found De Niro was not personally liable for the abuse, it said his company, Canal Productions, engaged in gender discrimination and retaliation against former assistant Graham Chase Robinson and should make two payments of $632,142 to her.
De Niro, who spent three days at the two-week trial — including two on the witness stand — has been ensnared in dueling lawsuits with Robinson since she quit in April 2019. He was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read aloud Thursday afternoon.
Robinson, 41, smiled as the verdict was being delivered. After the jury left the room, she hugged her lawyers.
Outside the courthouse, she smiled broadly and at other times seemed to be near tears. She did not comment.
Lawyers on both sides claimed victory.
“We're thrilled with the verdict,” Robinson's attorney, Brent Hannafan, said as he stood with his client outside the courthouse. “Couldn’t be happier."
Meanwhile, De Niro attorney Richard Schoenstein called the verdict “a great victory for Mr. De Niro.”
“He is absolved. He is not liable for anything that was charged against him at all,” Schoenstein said. “There's a modest award against the company. But, you know, they were looking for $12 million.”
The lawyer said De Niro's lawyers could try to reduce the award with post-verdict motions to the judge, but he wasn't sure there would be any. He said he didn't know if there would be an appeal.
Robinson had testified that De Niro, 80, and his girlfriend, Tiffany Chen, teamed up against her to turn a job she once loved into a nightmare.
De Niro and Chen each testified that Robinson became the problem when her aspirations to move beyond Canal Productions, the De Niro company that employed her, led her to make escalating demands to remain on the job.
Emails in which Chen told De Niro that she thought Robinson was having “imaginary intimacy” with him and wished she was his wife were shown to jurors. Robinson testified that she never had romantic interest in De Niro.
In two days on the witness stand, the actor told jurors that he boosted Robinson's salary from less than $100,000 annually to $300,000 and elevated her title to vice president of production and finance at her request, even though her responsibilities remained largely the same.
When she quit, De Niro said, Robinson stole about $85,000 in airline miles from him, betrayed his trust and violated his unwritten rules to use common sense and always do the right thing.
At times, De Niro acknowledged from the witness stand many of the claims Robinson made to support her $12 million gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit, including that he may have told her that his personal trainer was paid more than her in part because he had a family to support.
He agreed he had asked her to scratch his back on at least two occasions, dismissing a question about it with: “Ok, twice? You got me!”
He admitted that he had berated her, though he disputed ever aiming a profanity her way, saying: “I was never abusive, ever.”
He also denied ever yelling at her, saying every little thing she was trying to catch him with was nonsense and that, at most, he had raised his voice in her presence but never with disrespect. Then, he looked at her sitting between her lawyers in the well of the courtroom and shouted: “Shame on you, Chase Robinson!”
De Niro said Robinson was wrong to take 5 million airline miles from his company's accounts, but he acknowledged that he had told her she could take 2 million miles and that there were no strict rules.
Robinson testified that she quit her job during an “emotional and mental breakdown” that left her overwhelmed and feeling like she'd “hit rock bottom.”
She said she has suffered from anxiety and depression since quitting and hasn't worked in four years despite applying for 638 jobs.
“I don’t have a social life,” she said. “I’m so humiliated and embarrassed and feel so judged. I feel so damaged in a way. ... I lost my life. Lost my career. Lost my financial independence. I lost everything.”
De Niro's lawyers sued Robinson for breach of loyalty and fiduciary duty even before her lawsuit was filed against him in 2019. They sought $6 million in damages, including a return of the 5 million airline miles. The jury flatly rejected the claims.
De Niro has won two Oscars over the past five decades in films such as “Raging Bull” and “The Deer Hunter.” He’s in the Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon” that’s in theaters now.