Robert De Niro denies girlfriend gave him ‘ultimatum’ over assistant in workplace abuse case

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Robert De Niro has denied being issued an “ultimatum” by his partner Tiffany Chen after she urged him to replace his former assistant, a New York court has heard.

The Oscar-winning actor, currently earning critical acclaim for his performance in Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon, is facing a $12m (£9.9m) lawsuit from his former employee Graham Chase Robinson.

On Tuesday (31 October), De Niro, 80, took the stand for an explosive day of courtroom drama where he admitted to “berating” Robinson. Later in the trial, De Niro bellowed across the courtroom at Robinson, shouting: “Shame on you, Chase Robinson!” before offering a quieter apology.

The courtoom also heard claims that Chen told De Niro: “if you keep her, you and I will have problems”.

Robinson worked for De Niro between 2008 and 2019 as his executive assistant, and then his vice president of production and finance. However, she quit four years ago after repeated clashes with his girlfriend, film producer Tiffany Chen, and is now suing the actor for “severe emotional distress and reputational harm”.

De Niro departs federal court in New York (Getty Images)
De Niro departs federal court in New York (Getty Images)

De Niro’s company, Canal Productions, is meanwhile countersuing Robinson. The Irishman star claims Robinson stole items from him including five million airline points, and is demanding the return of three years of her salary.

Some of the texts shared in the trial were originally sent between Chen, 45, and De Niro, in which claimed that Robinson acted like she was his romantic partner and had an “imaginary intimacy” with him. Robinson’s lawyer denied that his client ever had a romantic interest in De Niro.

In one message, sent on 2 March 2019 at 2am, Chen wrote to her partner: “If you keep her, you and I will have problems.”

In a second exchange, she said: “I’m not going to be happy until you tell me she’s looking for a replacement. Keeping her around is just a slap in my face.”

However, when De Niro appeared in court on Tuesday, he denied that these messages from Chen constituted an ultimatum.

“You call it an ultimatum, I don’t,” he said, telling the jury that he interpreted Chen’s message as a request for Robinson to stop working at their townhouse in Manhattan.

“No one tells me what to do in my office. Period,” he added.

Elsewhere in the trial, De Niro also denied the “nonsense” claims that he sometimes urinated while speaking to Robinson on the phone. He also refuted calling her a “b****” to “her face”. “I was never abusive, ever,” he said.

Robinson, pictured, sued De Niro, with the actor countersuing (Getty Images)
Robinson, pictured, sued De Niro, with the actor countersuing (Getty Images)

However, De Niro did accept that he may have used the words to describe her behind her back, and accepted that he once “berated” Robinson when she didn’t wake him in time for an important meeting. He then agreed he might have called her “petulant,” “snippy” and a “f***ing spoiled brat”.

“I’ve raised my voice,” De Niro said. “I don’t yell. You wanna dispute that? That’s one thing I don’t do.”

Robinson alleges that De Niro would sometimes yell at her and call her nasty names, while also making sexist remarks about women generally. As a result, she claims she has been afraid to leave the house in the years since.

She also claims that the Goodfellas star refused to give her a reference to find another job when she quit in 2019, and that she has been unable to find another job since.

She also claims that she has been afraid to leave her home since quitting work for De Niro, who, she said, would sometimes yell at her and call her nasty names in behaviour consistent with sexist remarks he made about women generally.

The trial is expected to continue until 10 November.