Robert De Niro's girlfriend Tiffany Chen testified that Graham Chase Robinson "was attached to the control she felt she had"
Chen testified Thursday — the fourth day of the actor's gender-discrimination trial — at a federal courthouse in New York City, addressing her relationship with the plaintiff, De Niro's ex-assistant Graham Chase Robinson, 41, who is suing De Niro, 80, and his production company Canal Productions for alleged violations of the New York City Human Rights Law. De Niro is also suing Robinson, accusing her of improper spending and binge-watching TV during work hours.
When asked if Robinson had to do “whatever” De Niro asked of her during her employment with Canal Productions, Chen said, “Within professional reasoning, yes.” Chen added, “He would direct her and she would delegate to other people [who worked at Canal Productions].”
Robinson and Chen were first introduced in 2018, and texts between the two of them from October of that year were displayed on the screen at the courthouse. Chen wrote, “Who the hell are you?!?! We need to repopulate the planet with your DNA… you guys have such a great dynamic and chemistry it comes across so nicely in everything you two do together…. He speaks so glowingly of you and it’s nice to see that even his most complimentary moments have done you justice.”
During her testimony, Chen said that those texts were “largely sarcastic” and intended to make peace. “She was very strange from the beginning and always uncomfortable to be around. I was killing her with kindness," Chen said. Despite her attempts, Chen said Robinson was “mean-spirited and bitchy" during her employment. She added, “She was a hot mess. Her schedule was off all the time.”
While Robinson's team has claimed that she was made to do tasks for De Niro and Chen that were outside of her job description, such as purchasing gifts and working on their townhouse, Chen claimed this was Robinson’s choice. “She wanted to be everywhere with him shopping, so she came with when he said, ‘Let’s go pick out plants,’” Chen said. “She volunteered [to help him shop for gifts] on her own.”
Referring to text messages she had sent De Niro about Robinson having a “demented imaginary intimacy,” and "thinking she’s [De Niro’s wife],” Chen stood firm on her claims. “I think that’s what she was striving to be…. She’s crazy,” Chen said. “She was attached to the control she felt she had in this dynamic…. If her fantasy is going to infringe on my personal life and she was in the office, of course I’m going to [acknowledge the behavior]. It’s too weird.”
Speaking on Robinson’s conduct when De Niro wasn’t around, Chen said it was a “complete flip.” “When he’s not in the room, [it's a] Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde [situation].... When Bob’s not there, she has another face.”
While testifying, Chen admitted that she wavered on her feelings toward Robinson for a while. “I went back and forth from recognizing she had serious mental health issues to just feeling bad for her,” Chen said.
The testimony from Chen, whom De Niro has been dating since 2018 and with whom he shares 6-month-old daughter, Gia, comes three days after the actor was the first to take the stand at the federal courthouse in N.Y.C. on Monday.
Robinson worked for De Niro and his production company for 11 years, ultimately resigning after being promoted to vice president for production and finance in 2019. That year, the legal battle began when the actor and Canal Productions filed a $6 million lawsuit against Robinson.
De Niro and Canal Productions initially alleged that Robinson excessively binge-watched Netflix shows while working and abused her position to inappropriately use “her employer’s fund for her personal gain," including De Niro’s frequent flyer airline miles. The company also alleged that she spent tens of thousands of company dollars on personal expenses. The original lawsuit filing stated Robinson was making $300,000 per year when she “abruptly resigned” from the company via an email on April 6, 2019.
Robinson then sued De Niro and Canal Productions for alleged violations of the New York City Human Rights Law and is accusing the actor of gender discrimination and retaliation.
When De Niro took the stand earlier this week, text messages between Chen and him were shown where she referred to Robinson as “manipulative and nasty” and added, “this bitch needs to get put in her f----g place.” De Niro argued that Robinson was “rude” to Chen which is “unacceptable as an employee.”
On Thursday, Chen admitted that not all of her memories of Robinson are bad. In January 2019, after Chen left pots on the stove causing smoke, Robinson, who had made herself the primary contact for issues regarding the townhouse, ran inside to help the dogs out and dealt with the smoke, Chen recalled on the stand. On the same day, Chen texted De Niro, “The first thing she did was take care of the boys… that means everything to me. Her heart really is good.” On the stand, Chen said she meant that statement genuinely at the time, “given the situation.”
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A few days later, Chen texted De Niro, “I am grateful for her assistance Saturday, but I don’t trust her when it comes to me.”
The trial is expected to last two weeks. In addition to Robinson, De Niro and Chen's testimony, the jury will also hear from the actor's lawyer Tom Harvey, his accountant Michael Tasch and employees who worked with Robinson at Canal.
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