It’s possible that a supervisor might wait years to get back at an employee who filed a discrimination complaint. Possible, but unlikely.
The more time that passes between an initial complaint and any alleged retaliation, the less likely courts are to entertain a lawsuit.
Recent case: Thomas Porter works for American Cast Iron Pipe Company. Back in 1998, he filed an EEOC complaint and, later, a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination. At the time, he claimed he received athat was tainted by discrimination. However, he continued to work for the company.
Then in 2008, he applied for a promotion but was rejected in favor of another candidate.
Porter sued again, alleging that he had been denied the promotion in retaliation for filing the earlier lawsuit.
The court didn’t buy his argument. It reasoned that a decade was too long a time gap to suggest a retaliatory motive. Plus, Porter couldn’t come up with any evidence showing that he was far better qualified for the promotion than the candidate the company chose. (Porter v. American Cast Iron Pipe Company, No. 10-14017, 11th Cir., 2011)
Final note: There is no clear line in the sand you can draw to decide that the danger of a retaliation lawsuit has passed. However, the more time passes, the less likely a court will allow a lawsuit. That’s especially true if a supervisor had other opportunities to punish the employee and didn’t.