Free Essay

Erin Brockovich Ethical Review of the Movie

In: Business and Management

Submitted By masad1
Words 3172
Pages 13

Cast: Julia Roberts, Albert Finney.
Directed by: Steven Soderbirgh
Screenplay: Susannah Grant

The motion picture titled ‘Erin Brockovich’ is written by Susannah Grant and directed by Steven Soderbirgh and is based on true events between the years 1993 and 1996. Released in the year 2000, this Hollywood movie revolves around two characters: Erin Brockovich an American environmentalist and paralegal official. The other character is the US based power and gas firm ‘Pacific Gas and Electric Company’ (PG & E) which is responsible for providing gas and electricity utilities to almost 2/3rds of the northern Californian population. The events surrounding a much publicized and broadcasted case involving PG & E and residents of Hinkley, California expose a plethora of business and general ethical issues that form a sumptuous academic feast for any business student.

Before exploring the central characters of this story and inspecting the varied moral and ethical positions adopted by them in the movie, we must engage ourselves in creating a brief background study of the people and the institutions that play a pivotal role in this intriguing drama of business ethics and it’s relation with human psyche and actions.

Main Characters:

a. Erin ‘Patty’ Brockovich: Erin is a thirty three years old - twice divorced single mother of 3 children by the name of Matthew, Katy and Beth who age 8 years, 6 years and 9 months respectively in the beginning of the movie. Erin is a struggling single parent with little or no financial resources and is shown in the initial scenes of the picture trying her level best to acquire a job. Her primary concern at all times in the movie is the well being of her three kids. Whatever actions she takes as the story progresses are stemmed from the emotions that compel her to become what she considers to be a responsible and loving parent. She has an associate college degree and is shown as a onetime beauty queen as claimed by her own character.

b. Edward L. Masry: a lawyer in his mid 60’s, he is a partner in the law firm named ‘Masry & Vititoe.’ Masry is seen as a compassionate and hardworking lawyer but with bouts of self doubt and selfishness commonly perceived as signature signs of character in most old people. ‘Ed’ as he is called by his colleagues also betrays hints of self-importance when he is forced by Erin to hire her in the middle of a racket created by the later in his office. This peculiarity is, however more than compensated for by his actions toward Erin and the Hinkley residents as the movie progresses.

c. Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG & E): PG & E is the second most important character in the movie. It provides for the negative role in the story line. PG & E is depicted by the director as a strong giant in the power and gas sector in the state of California with valuation of US Dollar 28 billion as is quoted by one characters that is shown as its employee in the film. The operations of PG & E Hinkley and its level of concern for the people living in that land forms the back-bone of the content of this story as well as this term paper.

d. Donna Jensen: Donna is one of the residents of Hinkley who lives very close to the PG & E Hinkley plant with her husband and family. A middle aged woman ailing from various diseases, she is the first person to be contacted by Erin and Masry for the purpose of launching a ‘direct action lawsuit’ against PG & E Hinkley to reach a substantial out of court settlement between the power giant and the victimized residents of Hinkley.

e. Charles Embry: an ex employee of PG & E Hinkley, Charles is a character that has a very short yet critical role in the story. It is Charles who contacts Erin and provides her with the much needed details that she needs to establish claims made by Hinkley residents versus PG & E.

f. George: a Harley-Davidson enthusiast, George is the love interest of Erin and delivers some ethical issues in the story that are related to Erin and her kids.

g. Pamela: another victim of the Hinkley contamination, having an unfavourable opinion about lawyers in general and Erin in particular.


Now that we are done with the background to the central characters in the story, let us dissect each moment in the movie and the character(s) present in it and find for ethical issues that stand out as worth consideration by the students of Business Ethics.

The first scene of the movie has Erin Brockovich, our heroine giving an interview for the position of an assistant to a doctor. She is shown as being overtly desperate to land this job as she answers every question in the affirmative citing personal interests that range from medicine to public relations to geology and geography. She even appeals to the interviewer to consider her case as she is a mother of three children. At this point, Erin’s words are motivated by the stages 1 and 3 of Kohlberg’s model of moral development i.e. Punishment and Obedience plus Interpersonal Concordance stage. She also displays heavy traces of ‘Ethics of Care’ as she is concerned for her kids.

Cut two: Erin suffers an accident that leads her to Masry & Vititoe law firm; her case is unsuccessfully fought by Ed Masry the firm partner. His assurance of Erin prior to the hearing fills her with the hope that she may just have a case to bank on. Over here Ed may be considered to display level 3 of moral development i.e. Interpersonal Concordance stage. Reason being that being an old timer and a veteran in the field of legislation and law, Ed just might have an attachment to acts that portray him as a truly caring person which in turn is expected to reflect his professional sincerity and commitment to his clients.

The movie now shows Erin hunting jobs ferociously and trying to contact Ed for some help with no success at all in both ventures. She is shown working in the office of Masry & Vititoe without the permission of Ed Masry which irks the later to no end, and as a result he asks Erin to leave the office premises. Erin creates a racket and a brief exhibition of professional shrewdness is depicted by both Erin and Ed. Erin asks for a job at Masry & Vititoe in a belligerent manner while Ed in the midst of efforts to control his temper and his reputation which is being attacked by Erin’s antics agrees to hire but with one final stroke; no benefits! Up till this point in the story, Erin is shown exhibiting traits of a person who is in the stage 1 as well as stage 3 of moral development, while Ed keeps stays in stage 3 i.e. interpersonal concordance.

Erin then meets her new neighbour George, the Harley Davidson enthusiast who immediately finds interest in her. George is shown having qualities of an individual who, for the sake of getting his own goals accomplished goes out of his way to work selflessly for others but only if the ends result of efforts involved is favourably guaranteed to him. George thus, bases his existence in the realm of level 1 of moral development where he performs his acts in accordance with the points related in the 2nd stage i.e. Instrument and Reliability. He continues to behave in exactly the same manner throughout the length of the movie. The main reason of this judgment of George’s character is his eagerness in taking care of Erin’s kids just for the chance of him forming a relationship with her.

As of this point in the timeline of the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’, the characters of Erin, Ed and George are all shown acting in ways that in some manner insure the reaping of their own fruits of labour. They are acting selfishly to reach their own goals of the well being of family, professional stature and personal relationships respectively. The first twist in the story comes at a time when Erin is given a task by Ed to open a pro-bono case of one Donna Jensen and PG & E. The box containing the legal documents contains medical reports of Donna, confusing Erin. She reads the medical reports of Donna that depict loss of white blood cells and increasing rate of lymphocytes in the latter’s blood stream. She also reads the letter by PG & E headquarters offering Donna a fair market value of 66,000 USD for her home in Hinkley near the Hinkley plant.

This is the point where Erin starts developing a concern for people in general and enters the sphere of stage 6 of moral development i.e. Universal Ethical Moral stage. She continues to remain in this stage till the very end. After Ed allows her to study Donna Jensen’s case, Erin meets up with Donna at the latter’s residence in Hinkley. Donna tells her that PG & E have looked after all the medical bills of the Jensen’s while at the same time offering them to purchase their home. Donna also tells Erin about the Chromium III issue involving the power company and Hinkley inhabitants.

Erin meets up with a university professor to acquire information about Chromium. He provides her with the knowledge that Chromium VI used in the cooling water for pistons to prevent corrosion if mixed with ground water can cause serious medical issues that can enter the DNA of those exposed. The scholar also directs Erin to the county water-board for detailed information about the issue at hand. Erin uses her questionable ‘public relation’ skills to get a profound reach to the documents that reveal the presence of Hexavalent Chromium or Chromium VI in the Hinkley ground water coming out from the PG & E plant in the town. But after this, she is fired from her job due to prolonged absence.

However, after some time Ed agrees to hire Erin back with demand made by Erin for a 10 % increase and medical care in return for the documents she now possesses. Erin, at this instance shows self-focused stage of moral development wanting personal benefits alone in the form of a job and for a fleetest of moments shuns level 6 of moral development i.e. Universal Ethical moral principles that she holds dear for a great majority of the story duration.

Once hired back, Erin restarts her investigation into the case, now with full support from Ed Masry. Erin and Masry meet new victims of the Chromium VI contamination by PG & E living in Hinkley. Ed Masry continues to jump back and forth between stages 6 & 1 of moral development. Whenever he finds a reason that he thinks might dent his finances and legal practice, he covers back to Stage 1 of moral development, but with constant motivation from Erin manages to move back to Universal moral ethical principles to support the poor residents of Hinkley.

It is imperative here now to discuss the role played by PG & E, the antagonist in our story. PG & E is a company formed in 1905 and enjoys a monopoly in the gas and power utilities sector in almost two-thirds of northern California. It is shown as a USD 28 billion corporate giant with all the muscles necessary to tighten up its opponents. The company operates a plant in Hinkley California that uses Chromium VI, a deathly chemical used in the cooling water for its pistons in the plant to prevent corrosion. This highly dangerous water is sent to the pools located outside the plant that are lined to prevent contamination in the surrounding area. However circa 1966, some of the pools have broken lining system that cause a consistent and constant mix of this water containing Chromium VI in the area water of Hinkley.

The ethical issues are raised when it is shown that PG & E informs area residents that it uses Chromium III, a relatively benign chemical for its work. It is this lie that compels this scribe to feel (and as rightly depicted by the director) that PG & E stands answerable to ethical and moral questions and authorities. It creates a very complacent image of PG & E burdened with an off-handed attitude towards the safety of the people whose land it utilizes to earn its multi-billion dollar profit every year.
It also establishes that PG & E did not care (at least until 1996, when the settlement was reached) and continued its operations based upon the theory of Utilitarianism that advocates for the maximization of benefits over the costs incurred no matter what means employed. By this measure, PG & E can also be considered working under the umbrella of Herbert Spencer’s theory of Social Darwinism which dictates that only the fittest should be allowed to survive in the world with utter disregard for those lacking the financial strength required to make an attempt at survival.

Another sequence that shows PG & E’s deliberate effort to get rid of the case and non-seriousness towards the safety of the people of Hinkley is the series of monetary offerings it makes to Donna Jensen for her property and the people of Hinkley that range from USD 66,000 to Donna and 20 million to more than 600 plaintiffs on the whole. Whether be its refusal to admit the existence of health concerns created in Hinkley residents by its seepage of Chromium VI in Hinkley’s groundwater or the repetitive messages to the Hinkley station to get the land evacuated and the contamination reports destroyed, the moral and ethical pictures of PG & E management painted in front of this scribe are very grim indeed.

Coming back to the main story line, Erin continues to build up the case of Hinkley versus PG & E and finds many evidences and Hinkley victims willing to become plaintiffs. Ed once again experiences periods of self focused moral development stages as he decides to fight the case for the residents with a condition that he would receive nothing if the case is rejected by the court, a real threat to his finances and business as the costs of fighting a big giant like PG & E are shown as being immensely high as indicated by Ed himself. Erin and Ed continue to follow up the happenings surrounding the case for 18 months, during this time Ed engages ‘Kurt Potter’ in the case as makes him a partner for this as he believes that Potter’s expertise in water-contamination and chemical related cases makes him a very strong person to bank on for the success of Hinkley’s cause. Ed does this, however, without informing Erin, which enrages her and she leaves the office in a fury. During this time period, Ed shows his compassionate side and displays qualities imbibed in ‘Ethics of Care’ by sanctioning Erin a bonus as well as a new vehicle in recognition of her relentless efforts.

It is also during this time that George, Erin’s boyfriend gets tired of the time he has been taking out for Erin and her kids while losing on his own interest of biking and missing his friends as well. He walks out on Erin citing fact that he has not been rewarded by Erin for his commitment towards her and her kids. This shows behaviour of 2nd stage of moral development i.e. Instrument and Reliability on George’s part.
Pamela, another victim of Hinkley’s water contamination refuses to assist Erin and puts a ‘NO-SOLICITOR’ sign on her front door. She writes a letter in a local newspaper blaming Ed and Erin of cheating the residents of Hinkley. The director over here indicates an act of pure selfishness and thus self-focused moral development on Pamela’s part as she is portrayed as someone who may be offered a big amount by Hinkley to tarnish Erin’s image to avoid reaching a huge settlement denting PG & E. However at the end, it is shown, although implicitly that Pamela signs the petition against PG & E by allowing Erin inside her home: a change of heart on her part and a turn to 6th stage of moral development.

George returns to Erin and kids seeing her efforts, although it can be said that he does so acting in accordance with stages 1 and 3 of moral development to prove himself to Erin his love for her and kids as a true family member.
Ed’s new partner in the case, Kurt Potter reveals to him that PG & E Corporate denies any knowledge of the activities of its plant in Hinkley and therefore can deny offering the compensation to the residents of Hinkley. Potter informs Ed unless they manage to find a solution to this problem, their’s is a wild-goose chase.

During her trips to Hinkley to get the petition signed, Erin meets a person named Charles Embry, once a worker at PG & E station at Hinkley. Charles displays qualities of Ethics of Care by confiding in Erin that he lost his cousin due to the life-threatening substances used in the Hinkley station agrees to provide Erin with internal documents of communication between PG & E corporate and Hinkley station in which the corporate ordered Hinkley to bury the case and get the land evacuated. Charles Embry does so because of his character’s actions are in line with the Universal Ethical Moral principles stage of Post-Conventional Morality. He thinks selflessly for the entire Hinkley populace with no regard to his personal safety.
Equipped with this gripping proof of moral embezzlement by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG & E), Erin Brockovich and Edward Masry manage to win a record out of court settlement of USD 330 million for the victims of the Hinkley incident.

Throughout the length of this movie, a few business ethics principles remain constantly in the audience’s view. Utilitarianism on the part of PG & E. Universal moral and ethical principles on the part of Erin Brockovich, Ed Masry, and Charles Embry ; Ethics of care shown by George, Ed Masry and Erin Brockovich herself. PG & E is shown as having some of its acts in line with Herbert Spencer’s theory of Social Darwinism. The conclusion drawn by this scribe concerning the movie ‘Erin Brockovich’ and the business ethics issues that crop up in it is that companies should be honest and answerable to society and society itself must have a fair share of Post –Conventional Moral principles (as displayed by Erin and Ed) structured into its very own psyche, only then can a just, fair and sane social fabric come into existence.

Similar Documents

Premium Essay

Leadership - Erin Brockovich

...Erin Brockovich Leadership Review MSA 601 Organizational Dynamics and Human Behavior Submitted by: Tabitha McDaniel Project Instructor: Kenneth Lynch November 11, 2014 Erin Brockovich “Leadership always comes down to a question of character.” - Management expert Warren Bennis (Judge,1999) Being a good leader is done by making the correct choices and inspiring people to complete their tasks and work together as a team. In order to be a great leader you need to think outside the box and travel the road that is seldom or never traveled. A great leader will use their inspiration and determination to complete the tasks no matter what hurdles or problems they may be faced with. They believe in what they do and will go above and beyond to complete their job. The movie Erin Brockovich gives one of the best examples of one person’s determination and drive as she takes on a large corporation who was covering up the fact they were contaminating the water supply in a town. By doing this she displays all the qualities of being a great leader, brings down a corrupt corporation and helps an entire town of families. Erin is a single mother with three children and is relatively broke. She is twice divorced and doesn’t have a college degree. With all of these attributes you wouldn’t think she is the ideal candidate for being a great leader but she turns out to be a great example that leaders can come...

Words: 987 - Pages: 4

Free Essay


...praiseworthy act or be severely labeled as informers who have breached the loyalty of their co-workers and company. Whistleblowing can be a service to the community and public. Whistleblowing can be ethical or unethical, and the whistleblower discovering corporate misconduct has the options to be an internal or an external whistleblower. Whistleblowing can save people’s lives. Dr. Jeffrey Wigand made the decision to go public with information that his employer Brown & Williamson (B&W) was manipulating the nicotine content, suppressed efforts to develop safer cigarettes, and lied about the addictive properties of nicotine. According to Sissela Bok, in the book Taking Sides: Clashing views in Business Ethics and Society, “not only is loyalty violated in whistleblowing, hierarchy as well is often opposed, since the whistleblower is not only a colleague but a subordinate. Though aware of the risks inherent in such disobedience, he often hopes to keep his job.” (Newton, Englehardt, & Pritchard, 2012). Whistleblowing is ethical when the company through a product or decision will cause serious harm to the public. Whistleblowing is unethical when there is evidence that the employee is motivated by financial gain, media attention, or has a grudge against the company. An example of when it is ethical to be a...

Words: 3746 - Pages: 15

Free Essay


...THE “BLOG” EXPERIENCE: WHEN FREEDOM BECOMES INVASION INTRODUCTION Francois Voltaire, one of France’s most famous philosophers became well-known for this often quoted phrase: “I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it.” The phrase summarizes the spirit of the freedom of speech – one of the inventions of the 18th century Enlightenment, a time when discussions among the upper class were construed as constituting the public sphere. Although they belonged to the sophisticated members of society, their conversations highlighted social equality and everyone was given the chance to speak and be demanded to listen. With free and frank conversations, people became acquainted with points of view that were not familiar; they discovered strengths and weaknesses in their personal arguments, and subsequently became moderate in the expression of their views taking into consideration the arguments of others. With this small light ignited in the intellectual realm, the idealism of free communication of thoughts and opinions spread and became one of the trademarks of democratic societies. During the next century, John Stuart Mill affirmed that societies progress when people freely express themselves because errors and misconceptions are exposed, and alternatives were proposed. These sentiments became the backbone of the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948...

Words: 11752 - Pages: 48

Premium Essay

Mba Applications Essays

...Ivy League Admission: 180 Successful Business School (MBA) Essays Nancy L. Nolan, Ph.D. Ivy League Admission: 180 Successful Business School (MBA) Essays Nancy L. Nolan, Ph.D. First Edition Magnificent Milestones, Inc., Florida Copyright 2006. Nancy L. Nolan, Ph.D. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without written permission from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. Electronic and CD-ROM versions published by: Magnificent Milestones, Inc. Post Office Box 100582 Palm Bay, Florida 32910 CD ROM Edition 10-digit ISBN 0977376443 13-digit ISBN 9780977376445 PDF Version 10-digit ISBN 0977376494 13-digit ISBN 9780977376490 Printed in the United States of America Disclaimers: (1) This book is a compilation of successful admission essays; it does not claim to be the definitive word on the subject of MBA admission. The opinions expressed are the personal observations of the author based on her own experiences. They are not intended to prejudice any party. Accordingly, the author and publisher do not accept any liability or responsibility for any loss or damage that have been caused, or alleged to have been caused, through the use of information in this book. (2) Admission to business school depends on several factors......

Words: 89385 - Pages: 358

Premium Essay


...Table of Contents Title Page Copyright Page Dedication Introduction Chapter 1 - Priming Chapter 2 - Confabulation Chapter 3 - Confirmation Bias Chapter 4 - Hindsight Bias Chapter 5 - The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy Chapter 6 - Procrastination Chapter 7 - Normalcy Bias Chapter 8 - Introspection Chapter 9 - The Availability Heuristic Chapter 10 - The Bystander Effect Chapter 11 - The Dunning-Kruger Effect Chapter 12 - Apophenia Chapter 13 - Brand Loyalty Chapter 14 - The Argument from Authority Chapter 15 - The Argument from Ignorance Chapter 16 - The Straw Man Fallacy Chapter 17 - The Ad Hominem Fallacy Chapter 18 - The Just-World Fallacy Chapter 19 - The Public Goods Game Chapter 20 - The Ultimatum Game Chapter 21 - Subjective Validation Chapter 22 - Cult Indoctrination Chapter 23 - Groupthink Chapter 24 - Supernormal Releasers Chapter 25 - The Affect Heuristic Chapter 26 - Dunbar’s Number Chapter 27 - Selling Out Chapter 28 - Self-Serving Bias Chapter 29 - The Spotlight Effect Chapter 30 - The Third Person Effect Chapter 31 - Catharsis Chapter 32 - The Misinformation Effect Chapter 33 - Conformity Chapter 34 - Extinction Burst Chapter 35 - Social Loafing Chapter 36 - The Illusion of Transparency Chapter 37 - Learned Helplessness Chapter 38 - Embodied Cognition Chapter 39 - The Anchoring Effect Chapter 40 - Attention Chapter 41 - Self-Handicapping Chapter 42 - Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Chapter 43 - The Moment Chapter 44 -......

Words: 84394 - Pages: 338

Premium Essay

Mm4 Details Case Study E L E V E N T H E D I T I O N MARKETING MISTAKES AND SUCCESSES 3 0 T H A N N I V E R S A RY Robert F. Hartley Cleveland State University JOHN WILEY & SONS, INC. VICE PRESIDENT & PUBLISHER EXECUTIVE EDITOR ASSISTANT EDITOR PRODUCTION MANAGER PRODUCTION ASSISTANT EXECUTIVE MARKETING MANAGER ASSISTANT MARKETING MANAGER MARKETING ASSISTANT DESIGN DIRECTOR SENIOR DESIGNER SENIOR MEDIA EDITOR George Hoffman Lise Johnson Carissa Doshi Dorothy Sinclair Matt Winslow Amy Scholz Carly DeCandia Alana Filipovich Jeof Vita Arthur Medina Allison Morris This book was set in 10/12 New Caledonia by Aptara®, Inc. and printed and bound by Courier/Westford. The cover was printed by Courier/Westford. This book is printed on acid-free paper. Copyright © 2009, 2006, 2004, 2001, 1998, 1995, 1992, 1989, 1986, 1981, 1976 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise, except as permitted under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc. 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, website Requests to the Publisher for permission......

Words: 177260 - Pages: 710