Not that much is known about Lea’s past, but we’ve gotten a few hints and tidbits over the course of the show that give us a bit of insight.
The Childhood Years
We don’t know much about Lea’s childhood, other than that she grew up in Hershey, PA with her parents Pam and Mike and a brother Donnie.
Lea had a grandfather named Rod, who was into vintage cars and had a shop to fix up cars. When grandpa Rod died, Donnie inherited the shop and Lea inherited her grandfather’s Gran Torino, which was modeled after the Striped Tomato from 1970’s TV show Starsky & Hutch.
In the season 1 episode Islands Part 1, we learned that Lea was an automotive engineer for a startup company that developed self-driving cars. She described part of that job as sitting in endless meetings, talking about building things rather than actually building them. We can only assume that her job was to develop or optimize software for self-driving cars.
In Islands Part 2, Lea decided to move away from San Jose to go back to Pennsylvania, where she wanted to run the shop with her brother and make a life rebuilding old cars — one of her passions. That job didn’t work out and the business tanked, leaving Lea without a job and a future in Hershey. She returned to San Jose to continue her career there.
It’s not explicitly mentioned what job Lea took after moving back to San Jose, but she described it as not developing anything but market-testing designs. We do know that Lea is good at coding, because she mentioned an all-night coding session she was late for during a season 3 episode.
In episode 3×14 Influence, Shaun suggests to Dr. Glassman to hire Lea to fix their software issues (“She’s very good at tech, and isn’t happy in her job right now.”), which Glassman was first reticent to do, but then changed his mind when she outlined several problems with the hospital’s IT security during her job interview with Glassman. (She hacked herself into part of the hospital’s network because she could tell Glassman about their system’s vulnerabilities, she likely also read some of his e-mails, looked into the payroll, and had access to Glassman’s Google search history.)
It’s not clear what her job role was at first when she was initially hired, likely something akin to in-house IT specialist. She later advanced to IT Director for St. Bonaventure Hospital and had her own office, and eventually staff that reported to her.
In episode 5×02 Piece of Cake, during a conversation with the new hospital CEO, we finally get some more confirmation of her professional history. She’s been programming for four years (…ish). She went to U-Pitt (University of Pittsburgh), got her degree in three years, and then designed and built cars, desktops and entire coding systems from the ground up. So there you have it.
Lea is divorced, having married the “boy next door” she grew up with right out of high school. The marriage didn’t last long; she and her ex-husband mutually agreed that it was mistake and got a divorce. Lea admitted that it was a marriage grown out of peer pressure, likely also from her parents. At the time of season 4, the marriage was more than 10 years ago.
As far as we know, before Lea got romantically involved with Shaun, she had not been in any committed long-term relationships to speak of. Her parents mentioned that she had a history of dating men of questionable character, and accused her of doing so only to get under their skin.
In early season 2, she referred to dating out of work drummers who might dump her, and in 2×12 Aftermath and 2×13 Xin she hooked up with a man named Jake Dahlen whom she had sex with and who stayed over at her and Shaun’s apartment — we can only assume she had little interest in Jake beyond him being a fun but temporary fling. She had most likely also hooked up with other men, as Shaun refered to her using protection every time she had a boyfriend come over.
Lea later became involved with Dr. Shaun Murphy, her next door neighbour, and they are now getting married (season 5). You can read more in my post about Lea and Shaun’s relationship in my character insights post on the two of them.