Not long after, she was taken off the townhouse project, and Ms. Chen sent emails to other Canal employees instructing them to limit their communications with her, which she testified had only been intended to narrowly remove her from work involving Ms. Chen. Ms. Robinson resigned soon after.
Lawyers for Ms. Robinson argued that Ms. Chen’s direction was retaliation fueled by gender discrimination, citing text messages from Ms. Chen to Mr. De Niro accusing Ms. Robinson of imagining a “fantasy relationship” with her boss. (Ms. Robinson said she never had any romantic interest in Mr. De Niro.)
“She thought she was your wife,” Ms. Chen texted Mr. De Niro in 2019 after Ms. Robinson informed her former employer that she would be seeking legal representation unless the company resolved her request for severance pay, recommendation letters and other items. “I saw it from the beginning.”
“The balls, the nerve, the chutzpah,” Mr. De Niro responded. “The sense of entitlement. How dare her.”
Lawyers for Mr. De Niro, 80, portrayed Ms. Robinson, 41, as someone who exploited the trust and generosity of her boss, who had already given her significant perks and gifts — including a Rolex watch and part of a vacation in Hawaii — while also agreeing to pay her a salary of $300,000 per year in 2019, far more than other Canal office workers were paid. They argued that even though she received title changes, per her own request, her job responsibilities remained that of a personal assistant throughout her 11-year employment, and they repeatedly underscored the fact that she had not made any formal complaint over gender discrimination until she had been accused of financial improprieties.
After Ms. Robinson’s resignation, Canal employees scrutinized her spending on a company Amex card; the company ultimately alleged in its lawsuit that in the final two years or so of her employment, Ms. Robinson improperly spent more than $12,600 of the company’s money at an Italian restaurant near her home on the Upper East Side, about $32,000 on car services and nearly $9,000 on personal food items. The company also objected to her charging it for 62 vacation days that she claimed were unused over about three years.