Notorious Environmentalist, Subject of the Hit Movie, "Erin Brockovich"
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The youngest child of Frank and Betty Jo Pattee (he was an industrial engineer, she was a journalist), Erin Brockovich grew up in Lawrence, Kansas. After graduating from Lawrence High School in 1978, Erin spent one year at Kansas State University, then transferred to a business college in Dallas, Texas, where she earned her Associate in Applied Arts degree. She recently received an honorary degree of Master of Arts, Business Communication from Jones International University.
In 1981, Erin took a job as a management trainee for K-Mart in Orange, California. She left after a few months to take a job at Fluor Engineers and Constructors to work and study to become an electrical design engineer. While working at this job, she tried her luck in the beauty pageant world. Although she met with almost immediate success, winning the title of Miss Pacific Coast, she dropped off the circuit the following year and married restaurant manager Shawn Brown.
Shawn and Erin moved back to Kansas where over the course of four years Erin gave birth to her two older children, Matthew and Katie Brown. Eventually the family settled in Reno, Nevada. In 1987, she and Shawn divorced. Now a single mom with two children to support, Erin became a secretary at E.F. Hutton, a Reno brokerage. There she met stockbroker Steven Brockovich whom she married in 1989. Erin's marriage to Steven Brockovich ended in 1990. After the birth of her youngest daughter, Elizabeth, Erin again found herself on her own with three children to feed and clothe.
After being seriously injured in a traffic accident in Reno, Erin moved back to Southern California with her children. In 1991, she hired Jim Vititoe of Masry & Vititoe to handle her car accident case. It was not long after her case was resolved that she was hired to work at the law firm as a file clerk. While organizing papers in a pro bono real estate case, she found medical records in the file that piqued her curiosity. After getting permission from one of the firm's principals, Ed Masry, she began to research the matter.
Erin's solo investigation eventually established that the health of countless people who lived in and around Hinkley, California in the 1960's, 70's and 80's had been devastated by exposure to toxic Chromium 6. The Chromium 6 had leaked into the groundwater from the nearby Pacific Gas and Electric Company's Compressor Station. In 1996, as a result of the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind, spearheaded by Erin Brockovich and Ed Masry, the giant utility paid the largest toxic tort injury settlement in U.S. history: $333 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.
The story of Erin's investigation, legal triumph and personal challenges were dramatized in the hit movie "Erin Brockovich". Released in March 2000 by Universal Studios, it starred Julia Roberts as Erin and Albert Finney as Edward Masry. The movie received 5 academy award nominations. Julia received a Best Actress Award for her portrayal of Erin Brockovich.
No longer a file clerk, Erin now serves as Director of Research at Masry and Vititoe, where she is currently involved in other major environmental lawsuits. Remarried in 1999 to actor Eric Ellis, she lives with her husband and children in Agoura Hills, California.
Erin has written a book, with Marc Eliot, entitled Take It From Me, Life's a Struggle But You Can Win and published by McGraw-Hill. It is currently in bookstores worldwide. She continues to lecture around the country on personal responsibility and motivation in overcoming adversity. She hosted the ABC special "Challenge America" in December 2001 and hopes to do a series of television specials later this year.
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