TAKING the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service to court must have been daunting. Of all the institutions against which to launch a claim of unfair dismissal, this must surely rank among those least likely to give an inch, to know the statute books inside out, to field a vigorous defence.

David and Goliath come to mind when hearing about the case brought by court officer Mandy Davies against her former employer. Davies, who had a 20-year unimpeachable work record, believed that she had been discriminated against when dismissed for “gross misconduct”, when in fact she was suffering debilitating physical and mental problems because of severe menopausal symptoms.

Already I can hear sniggering in the back row. The word menopause often has that effect. As anyone who has gone through it knows, it is the condition whose name nobody dares speak for fear of mockery or revulsion. Periods used to be taboo, but thanks to enlightened education, they are fast losing their power to humiliate. Not so the m-word. While it’s okay to arrive in the office nursing a humdinger of a hangover, to admit to the Gray’s Medical Dictionary of complaints that the middle-aged woman endures is like raising a flag of shame. Not that we need any flag. When in its grip, some of us emit as much steam as the Hogwart’s Express.

Thanks to the courage of Ms Davies and her lawyer Kate Wyatt, we should get used to hearing more about the menopause, and to wiping the smile off sniggerers’ faces. Despite the hurdles they faced, they won their case. Awarding the complainant £14,000 compensation for lost pay, and £5000 for “injury to feelings”, the judgement also said Ms Davies should be given her job back.

So what?, you might be thinking. It’s hardly as dramatic a step in the fight for women’s equality as Wade v Roe, or the recently expanded definition of what constitutes domestic violence. In fact it is every bit as revolutionary. Possibly even more so, since almost every woman will go through it. By proving that menopausal symptoms can have as deleterious effect on a person’s well-being and ability to function as an illness or disability, this landmark case will go down in legal history as – forgive the phrase – a red-letter day for women’s rights.

In Davies’s instance, she had to cope with very heavy bleeding, anxiety and loss of memory. To hold down a job while contending with all this must be hard. All women will sympathise. Even those who sailed through the Change of Life, as our grandmothers called it, know that it’s not always easy. It can last a decade or more, bringing with it a smorgasbrod of side-effects. Lost names, sentences that cannot be finished, tasks left undone and forgotten are all part of the mental fog that descends as if you’re scaling the Matterhorn. There can be sudden catastrophic loss of confidence, when ordinary tasks seem scary. Add to these meteoric mood swings and general aches and pains, and there are surprisingly few days when you feel like your real self.

It doesn’t help that you wake in the small hours thinking you’ve left the electric blanket on high, only to discover it’s you who’s imitating a kettle. There’s the prospect of office meetings where you dread the moment when – not if – your face grows so hot it could ignite a barbecue. You acquire a wardrobe dedicated to those occasions when it’s necessary to give a speech, or go for an interview, a lesson in multi-layering and breathable fabrics, regardless of whether a venue is likely to be over-heated. You could be in ice-bound Archangel, but your body will suddenly find itself near the Mediterranean, rustling up a Turkish bath up for you to enjoy.

Read more: Why age isn’t a barrier to power in our youth-driven society

Perhaps the crimson face that afflicts women of a certain age is nature’s way of making us visible. As almost all over-50s know, by this point we have become wallpaper. It’s hard catching the waiter’s eye, let alone hailing a taxi at rush hour. This is not necessarily bad. With invisibility comes power of a different sort, as Miss Marple knew to her advantage. But the fluster that the menopause creates brings attention of the wrong kind, a self-perpetuating vortex of public mortification that can only be cured by half an hour in a wind tunnel.

It sounds comic, but it’s no joke. Especially not when you consider the escalating number of women working into their fifties and beyond. Indeed, if you were a conspiracy theorist, you’d think the cosmos was enjoying a grand jest at our expense. First, women need time off work to have, and raise, children. As a result, they risk slipping down the career ladder. Once back in harness, they scrabble to catch up. Yet no matter how much effort they put in, there’s no escaping the awareness that there’s little chance of fully retrieving the time and status they have lost.

Then, just when a measure of equilibrium has been reached, the menopause looms. At the very age when we have acquired experience, confidence and perspective, when childcare days are over, and we are eager to throw ourselves into work, hormones step up a gear. Whether the job is challenging or routine, whether the menopause is a mere blip or is so debilitating it represents a serious intermission in normal service, it makes an impact, and never in a good way.

With an ageing population and the state pension fast receding, a prodigious number of women will be in work in advanced middle-age. As they navigate this troublesome stage, they need to know their bosses and colleagues are not sitting in judgement.

Now that one case of mistreatment has been brought to book, every employer should be conscious that staff going through the menopause need more kindness and respect than ever. If the stigma and embarrassment of a wholly natural physical transition can be eased, then employees are likely to repay this solicitude with years of loyal service. As those women who have passed through the night sweats, hot flushes and all the rest often say, happy days lie just around the corner. They’re like canoeists who’ve shot the rapids, and found themselves in calmer waters at last.