Clara Oleson

1996 Awardee

  • UI Labor Center

Clara Oleson is a retired lawyer who worked for years as an adult labor educator through the University of Iowa's Labor Center and is a founding member of the Iowa Women’s Political Caucus. In 1982 Oleson represented Asa Black in a dispute about Black's promotion that ultimately decided in Black's favor in the Iowa Supreme Court. This case helped form the argument for Jean Jew during her sexual harassment case, as it demonstrated a history of the University of Iowa's administration in using social prejudices against candidates applying for career advancement. Oleson spent her legal career championing similar cases and causes, and was an outspoken advocate for women's rights and other human rights issues - and was not afraid to voice her opinions to her employers. 

In 1981, Oleson condemned a UI presidential search committee on grounds of it's composition: 11 men and 2 women, none of whom belonged to a minority group. "The composition of the committee is an illustration of affirmative action on campus these days," she wrote. "Rather than seeing the need for bringing women and minorities into the system, the power brokers slate their sympathy for equality but rarely move to implement it, especially if it means voluntarily relinquishing personal influence."

Oleson also represented clients suing the government of Iowa City. One of her more famous cases was that of Laura Eaton, a female firefighter who was transferred to custodial duties when her supervisors became aware of her pregnancy, and faced opposition in coming back to work at the station. 

In 2004, Oleson published "Negotiating and Teaching Workplace Drug Testing: A Labor Perspective" in the Labor Studies Journal, which examined workplace drug testing policy as an issue for collective bargaining of union employees and the recommended practices for labor educators on this topic. The study presents a list of potential class topics and gives anecdotal observations about unionists' responses to this teaching topic.

In 2015 and 2016, Oleson was a part of the “Hillary Quilt Project,” a group of Iowans who were touring the state with a quilt they knitted that bears the Clinton campaign logo.

Oleson currently works as a program consultant in the UI Division of Continuing Education and as an adjunct assistant professor in the UI College of Public Health.