The number of age discrimination claims has surged from 3,800 to 5,200 in the past year, the Tribunals Service has revealed.
Other categories of discrimination claims grew, but less rapidly. Race discrimination claims rose from 5,000 to 5,700, disability from 6,600 to 7,500 and religion from 830 to 1,000.
The number of claims for sex discrimination fell slightly, from over 18,600 to 18,200 as did the much smaller number for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Jo Davis, head of employment at BP Collins, predicted that age discrimination cases would overtake those for race discrimination.
“The gap is growing smaller every year,” she said. “In broad terms, anyone can bring a claim for age discrimination, if they are over 50 or under 30.”
Davis said age discrimination had the advantages for employees that they did not need to be sacked or to have served the 12 months necessary to qualify for protection against unfair dismissal.
Because of the recession, she said more people were being dismissed, and being denied promotions and pay rises.
She added that age discrimination should no longer be treated as a “second class” form of discrimination, because it could be justified by employers, and should instead be treated in a similar way to race and sex.
Robert Riley, partner at Addleshaw Goddard in Leeds, said the rise in age discrimination claims showed a “greater understanding of the law” by employers and employees.
“People have a clearer sense of what is a breach of age discrimination legislation,” he said.
“There is a growing amount of case law. Rightly or wrongly we have an ageist culture and a lot of things we say or do are by reference to people’s age.”
Riley predicted that the number of claims would be “up there with race and disability discrimination” but it would not overtake them.
The number of tribunal claims in total increased by 56 per cent, from 151,000 to 236,000. However, this is largely explained by the number of multiple claims which rose by nearly 90 per cent.
Breach of contract claims rose from 32,800 to 42,400 and unfair dismissal claims from 52,700 to 52,400.