Mississippi Becomes Final State to Enact Equal Pay Law

Author: Emily Scace, Brightmine Legal Editor

April 26, 2022

With the passage of a new equal pay law in Mississippi, every state now has a statute that prohibits employers from engaging in sex-based pay discrimination.

While pay discrimination is prohibited at the federal level under the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, state laws often provide additional protections, make different remedies available, or make it easier for employees to bring claims.

The Mississippi Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, which takes effect July 1, 2022, applies to employers with five or more employees. Under the Act, a covered employer may not pay any full-time employee a wage less than it pays an employee of the opposite sex in the same establishment for equal work on a job requiring equal skill, education, effort and responsibility and performed under similar working conditions.

Exceptions apply to pay differentials based on:

  • A seniority system;
  • A merit system;
  • A system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production; or
  • Any other factor other than sex.

Although the law represents an important development for employers in Mississippi, critics contend that it does not go far enough and allege that certain provisions may even be counterproductive. In particular, the law provides that an employee's salary history, continuity of employment history, and negotiation efforts will be considered factors "other than sex" that an employer may use to justify pay differentials - factors that many claim will stymie efforts to ensure equal pay for women.

The law's protection of employers' use of salary history in pay decisions cuts against a recent trend. Many states and localities have strictly limited or banned the use of such information by employers because of concerns that allowing an individual's salary history to impact compensation tends to entrench existing pay inequity, adversely affecting women and other groups that have been historically underpaid.

The law contains a private right of action and protections against retaliation. Remedies may include back pay, attorney fees, interest and costs. Unlike many state equal pay laws, an employee may not bring a claim under both the Mississippi Equal Pay Act and the federal Equal Pay Act but must choose to proceed under one law or the other. Lawsuits must be brought within two years from when the employee knew or should have known of an employer's alleged violation.