NEW YORK — Robert De Niro’s former top executive assistant said she found it “creepy” when the actor insisted she scratch his back, an example of behavior she found controlling and abusive before she quit her job in 2019, she testified Friday at a New York civil trial.
In a full day of testimony, Graham Chase Robinson became emotional several times as she claimed that the trauma she endured before she quit working for De Niro in 2019 after 11 years has left her jobless and depressed.
“I was having an emotional and mental breakdown. I wasn’t eating. I wasn’t sleeping. Couldn’t run. I was overwhelmed,” she told jurors in Manhattan federal court. “I felt like I hit rock bottom.”
She said she suffers from anxiety and depression 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.”
Robinson, 41, is seeking $12 million in damages from De Niro, 80, for gender discrimination and retaliation. De Niro has asked a jury to award him $6 million on breach of loyalty and fiduciary duty grounds.
Robinson said the back-scratching had occurred several times over the years until she offered a mild protest once, suggesting to De Niro that there was a device he could use instead.
“I like the way that you do it,” she said De Niro told her.
She described the comment as “creepy” and “disgusting.”
During testimony earlier in the week, De Niro scoffed at the back-scratching claim and other assertions, saying he always treated Robinson with respect and never with “disrespect or lewdness.”
He also claimed he never yelled at her just before he did in court, shouting: “Shame on you, Chase Robinson!” He quickly apologized for the outburst.
Robinson said part of her duties that required her to be available around the clock included helping De Niro navigate a complicated love life that at one point involved a wife, an ex-girlfriend and a new girlfriend that he didn’t want the world to yet know about.
Robinson portrayed De Niro in her testimony as sexist with his language toward female employees and discriminatory in how he paid them.
Her testimony was undercut on cross-examination when a lawyer for De Niro confronted her with the fact that the actor’s highest-paid employee was a woman and that a man who worked for one of De Niro’s companies, Canal Productions, just like Robinson, was paid less than a third of the $300,000 salary she secured before she quit.
Robinson testified about several instances when she claimed De Niro, who gained fame and two Oscars over the past five decades in films like “Raging Bull,” “The Deer Hunter” and the new Martin Scorsese film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” erupted angrily at her, sometimes using profanity.
Around Christmas of 2017, Robinson said, an inebriated De Niro called her angry one evening because he couldn’t find some presents that had been sent to him from the office for the holiday.
“He was screaming about not being able to find some of the presents,” Robinson said. “He was cursing left and right.”
He then called her an expletive and hung up, she said.
She said she found it “incredibly hurtful … especially when you’re just trying to do your job.”