For Linda Sturdy, the news is only just starting to sink in.

Last year, a tribunal upheld her claims of age discrimination against the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust and just 24 hours ago the final piece of a complicated jigsaw fell in to place when the case was closed and Linda was awarded a further £147,000 in compensation.

In her 40-year career working for the NHS, Linda had much to be proud of. Training first as a radiographer, she set up a new breast screening unit from scratch and had run a pioneering service at Seacroft Hospital in Leeds which detected tissue abnormalities in women.

She was the very definition of professionalism. Her projects were consistently delivered on time and on budget, but in 2006 Linda's world fell apart when Trust bosses announced plans to restructure her department. Amid talk of a new post, added responsibilities and exciting times ahead, Linda revealed that she was only a few years away from retirement. Immediately, the mood of her employers changed.

The new post was given to a much less experienced manager and Linda, who was struggling to know where it had all gone wrong, was threatened with dismissal if she refused to accept a more junior role and an annual pay cut of £9,000.

After a period signed off with stress, Linda's agony continued when she returned to work the following year to find her office nameplate had been removed. Within a period of six months, Linda had been sacked, reinstated and then made redundant, an ordeal which she later admitted had left her on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

However, despite her vulnerable state, Linda, with the support of her husband Richard, found the courage to take the Trust to a tribunal. It was a battle which would last three-and-a-half years, involve much heartache, many sleepless nights and leave the Trust with a bill of more than half a million pounds.

"I still quite can't believe it is all over," says Linda, who was 56 when her problems at work began. "I do feel as though I have got what I was entitled to. I can't help thinking the decision by the Trust to fight the case was a massive waste of public money and completely avoidable, but the overwhelming feeling is one of relief, sheer and utter relief."

Since the case began, the Sturdys' home in Ripon has become filled with piles of paperwork and legal documentation. Compiling the compelling evidence which was presented to the tribunal was painstaking and, looking back, Linda understands only too well why many people feel unable to follow such legal challenges through to their bitter end.

"We were warned right from the start that it wasn't going to be easy," she says. "At the time, the longest case anyone had known had lasted 18 months. Ours took a lot longer, but it was absolutely worth it and
even during the really difficult days I never once thought about giving up.

"I knew what had happened to me was wrong and I just thought if no-one stands up to such bully- boy tactics then those responsible will be allowed to carry on regardless. I'd seen it happen before and while I might not have stopped it from happening again, I hope at least I might have made people stop and think.

"However, the only reason I was able to be so strong was because I had a lot of support. Taking it on yourself is almost impossible if you don't have the backing of a union and your family. It's not simply because of the finances, but because of the sheer physical stamina required to keep going.

"It was daunting and at times it was stressful. Someone fighting on their own could quite easily be ground down and give up."

Taking on an age discrimination case is not for the faint-hearted. Cases are often difficult to prove, and some victims fear being forever labelled as troublemakers. With the law relatively new – the latest legislation came into force only in 2007 – there is much uncharted territory.

"The law is there to be upheld and provide support, but it does take a great deal of individual courage to instigate a claim," says Hazel Jackson, human resources manager of Age Concern's Bradford and district branch. "Understandably, some people worry about the consequences, others just want to draw a line under the whole episode and for some the idea of a legal tribunal is in itself too frightening to consider. However, to those who do go down this road and win, I can only say well done."

With an ageing population, the issue of discrimination has become a hot topic and while Age Concern believes the treatment of older workers, particularly those just a few years off retirement, has got better in recent years, there is still room for improvement.

"We live in a modern society. We need to recognise that having more mature people in a workplace brings benefits not downsides," adds Hazel. "Experienced staff have a different skill set and they can bring with them many years of knowledge.

"We have taken great strides forward, but age discrimination still exists. Sometimes it may be obvious, sometimes it may be insidious, but it's still there.

"Our campaign has always been to try to prevent it from happening, to make businesses aware of their legal responsibilities and to highlight why an enforced retirement age is bad idea.

"If someone wants to give up work when they hit 65 then great, but retirement should be about having a choice."

Many of those who suspect their employers may have fallen foul of the age discrimination laws continue to be put off by the many legal hoops they have to jump through. However, high-profile cases like that of Selina Scott, who won an apology and compensation from Channel 5 in 2008 after they revoked an offer of a job and brought in a younger presenter, have helped raise awareness of the law, and the trickle of cases may yet to turn into a more steady stream.

"No company wants the publicity which comes with alleged cases of age discrimination and I suspect many cases so far have been settled before they have reached the tribunal stage," says Louise Connacher, director and head of employment law at Lupton Fawcett in Leeds.

"When any new law comes in, it takes a little while for its full potential to be felt.

"Age discrimination can be difficult to prove, however, it is inevitable that there will be cases which will be decided at the Court of Appeal. Once those precedents are set and the specifics of the law have been tested, then more people are likely to be more willing to put their heads above the parapet."

As for Linda, she hopes she has heard the last of age discrimination. Now 60, she has retrained as a part-time drug dispenser for a rural GP surgery in North Yorkshire and it seems that even the darkest cloud can have a silver lining.

"I once thought my working career would end when I retired from the breast screening unit, but things didn't work out that way," she says. "Inevitably, the last few years have cast a bit of a shadow over the rest of my career with the NHS, but I hope I can now move on and separate the many good times from the few bad ones.

"My new job is a completely fresh challenge, the kind I never thought I'd get. It's a fantastic team with a real sense of camaraderie. What can I say – except I like to think that what was one employer's loss was another's gain and life is good."

Compensation aside, for Linda, it's that feeling which is priceless.