JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi will become the final state with a law requiring equal pay for equal work by women and men.
Republican Gov. Tate Reeves signed House Bill 770 on Wednesday, and it will become law July 1.
A 1963 federal law requires equal pay for equal work, but Mississippi has the only state without its own law since Alabama enacted one in 2019.
The Mississippi law says a lawsuit must be filed within two years of when a worker “knew or should have known” about pay discrepancies.
If the pay discrimination lawsuit is successful, the employer would have to increase wages of the lower-paid worker rather than decrease wages of the higher-paid one, said House Judiciary A Committee Chairwoman Angela Cockerham, an independent from Magnolia who pushed for the legislation.
The law says businesses with at least five employees must pay equal wages to women and men who work full-time jobs that require “equal skill, education, effort and responsibility" and that are done "under similar working conditions.”
Several exceptions are allowed, including seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production and “any factor other than sex," including salary history and whether there was competition to hire an employee.
Cassandra Welchlin, leader of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, advocates for equal pay but said the new law is “harmful” because it would allow an employer to pay a woman less than a man based on the pay history that workers bring into new jobs.
A 2017 report by the Mississippi University Research Center showed women earned 27% less than men for full-time work in Mississippi, compared to a 19% wage gap nationwide. The study said some of the gap could be explained by the types of jobs women and men were working, but the unexplained wage gap remained about 18% in Mississippi and about 15% nationwide.
Emily Wagster Pettus, The Associated Press