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7.26.22 – Phelps

House Bill 770, “Mississippi Equal Pay for Equal Work Act,” recently took effect. That means aggrieved employees can now bring gender-based pay claims in Mississippi state courts that can’t be removed to federal court. Here’s what you need to know.

The new equal pay law resembles the federal Equal Pay Act. It prohibits employers from paying a lesser wage rate to men and women who perform substantially equal work, the performance of which requires equal skill, education, effort and responsibility—performed under similar working conditions. There’s also similar exceptions under state law. If the payment is made under a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or the catch-all—“any other factor than sex,” then the difference in pay is justified.

Some distinctions exist. State lawmakers codified a three-factor test to determine whether the pay discrepancy is based on “any other factor than sex.” Those compare:

  • Salary history or continuity of employment
  • The competitiveness of the employees’ services
  • The extent the employees engaged in waged-based negotiations with their employer

The Mississippi law also imposes a 40-hour-per-week requirement on employees, unlike its federal counterpart, and only applies to public or private employers who employ five or more employees. 

Damages are statutory. If an employer violates the rule, then the employee is entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees, prejudgment interest, back pay and costs. But Mississippi employers can’t be liable under both state and federal law. An employee who seeks relief under state law must waive any right to relief under federal law. If the employee brings a claim under state law and then later initiates a claim under federal law, the state law action must be dismissed. 

We encourage employers to remain proactive. Train supervisors and department heads so that they’re knowledgeable of this rule and reexamine any gender-based pay discrepancies. We’ll continue to monitor the courts’ application of this statute and provide updates so employers stay up-to-date on these issues. 

Please contact Loden Walker or any member of Phelps’ Labor and Employment team if you have questions or need advice or guidance.