New Update 4/27/2022:
As of April 20, 2022 Governor Tate Reeves has signed House Bill 770 into law. The new law will go into effect July 1, 2022.
As of March 30, 2022, a new pay equity law has passed through both the Mississippi House & Senate and is now on the verge of being enacted. Currently, Mississippi is the only state in the country without a statewide equal pay law. However, unless state governor Tate Reeves vetoes the bill by April 23, that will change.
House Bill 770, also known as the “Mississippi Equal Pay for Equal Work Act”, states that no employer can pay an employee less than an employee of opposite sex at the same establishment for equal work on the job. However, while the current trend in state equal pay laws has been to limit the possible reasons for permissible pay differences, HB 770’s language reflects the federal Equal Pay Act in that the pay difference is allowed if it is due to “any factor other than sex”. Unlike the federal law, however, the Mississippi bill spells out what some of those factors might be and includes factors such as prior salary history of the employee, continuity of employment history by the employee, the extent to which there was competition with other employers for the employee’s services, and the extent to which the employee attempted to negotiate for higher wages.
This bill would stand in stark contrast to current trends in national pay equity. Many recent state and local laws have banned the use of salary history in setting or defending differing pay, as this has been shown to negatively impact both women and minorities. For instance, the neighboring state of Alabama enacted a law in 2019 stating that employers can’t refuse to interview or employ applicants because they don’t answer questions about their salary history. States like California, Illinois, and Massachusetts (among others) have gone even further by banning inquiries regarding salary history altogether. And Colorado recently took a cue from European pay equity standards in requiring that employers post the salary range for any job opening in the initial posting. Put simply, this new law may not portend greater pay equity in the state of Mississippi, but rather endorse one of the most common reasons that inequitable pay occurs in the first place.
Courts have recently looked skeptically at business-related defenses that disproportionately impact women meant to suffice the “any factor other than sex” defense. However, the new Equal Pay for Equal Work Act in Mississippi codifies into law some of the issues that have received the most criticism in recent years. While Mississippi appears poised to shed its label as the only state in the U.S. without an equal pay law, the law itself accepts consensus causes of disparate impact as acceptable reasons for pay differences.