Erin Brockovich was born June 22, 1960, in Lawrence, Kansas, as Erin Pattee to Frank Pattee, an industrial engineer, and Berry Jo O’Neal-Pattee, an English major specializing in journalism. Brockovich grew up in Lawrence where she attended Lawrence High School and then Kansas State University. Brockovich eventually moved to California where she became a management trainee for K-Mart. In 1981 Brockovich won the Miss Pacific Coast beauty pageant, but chose not to pursue any other pageant titles after her win. Brockovich married her first husband, Shawn Brown, in 1982 and they had two children. They settled in Reno, Nevada, and after their divorce in 1987, Brockovich became a secretary at a brokerage firm. There she met and married her second husband, Steven Brockovich, and together they had a child. However, the marriage only lasted a year and they divorced in 1990.
After a bad traffic accident in Reno, she moved back to California where her career as a legal assistant began. Brockovich convinced her lawyer, Ed Masry, to give her a job as a file clerk in his law firm, Masry & Vititoe. It was here that Brockovich stumbled upon medical records that would lead to the largest direct action lawsuit in U.S. history.
Brockovich was working on a pro bono real estate case when she discovered that the Pacific Gas & Electric company had been contaminating the water of Hinkley, California for years, through the leaking of hexavalent chromium into the ground water. Pacific Gas & Electric were forced to pay $333 million in damages to Hinkley residents. In 2000 the movie, Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts, told a dramatic version of the case.
Brockovich became an activist after the release of Erin Brockovich, and is the president of Brockovich Research and Consulting Firm, where she works on many environmental issues. Brockovich has received many awards for her efforts including the Consumer Advocate of the Year awarded by Consumer Attorneys of California and the Julius B. Richmond Award from the Harvard School of Public Health. Brockovich married her third husband, Eric Ellis, in 1999 and resides in California.
Entry: Brockovich, Erin
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: May 2012
Date Modified: July 2016
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.