Mississippi could become the latest state to enact legislation requiring equal pay for equal work by women and men, after the Republican-controlled State House and Senate passed the final version of a bill Wednesday.
The bill is being handed to Republican Gov. Tate Reeves, and he hasn’t said whether he will sign it. When he was lieutenant governor, Reeves let a similar bill die.
A 1963 federal law requires equal pay for equal work, but Mississippi is the only state that does not have its own equal pay law. Alabama enacted one in 2019.
Mississippi’s bill says a lawsuit must be filed within two years of when a worker “knew or should have known” of pay discrepancies.
If the lawsuit is successful, the worker could receive court costs, attorneys’ fees, and the amount he or she should have received to cover the wage gap. No further financial damage would be allowed.
Cassandra Welchlin, leader of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable, advocates for equal pay but said the bill is ‘prejudicial’ because it would allow an employer to pay a woman less than a man in based on the earnings history that workers bring into new jobs. She said the bill also allows for a pay cut if a worker has taken months or years off to care for children or older relatives.
“During this pandemic, women have been forced out of the workforce for care responsibilities,” Welchlin said Wednesday. “It’s just an equal pay bill in name only.”
Bill 770 states that companies with five or more employees must pay equal wages to women and men who hold full-time jobs that require “equal skill, education, effort and responsibility” and who are carried out “under similar working conditions”.
Several exceptions are allowed, including seniority, merit, quantity or quality of production, and “any factor other than gender” including salary history and whether there has been competition to hire an employee .
Republican Senators Brice Wiggins of Pascagoula and Nicole Boyd of Oxford were among the six lawmakers who negotiated the final version of the bill. Wiggins described it as “business friendly”. Boyd said the bill is “a good step in the right direction.”
“He says to the young women, ‘We want you to stay in the state of Mississippi. We want you to work here and we want your rights protected,” Boyd said.
Democratic Senator Angela Turner Ford of West Point voted “present,” which counted neither for nor against the bill. She said after the vote employers could save money by paying unequal wages because lawsuits could be hard to win. Turner Ford also said the bill does not prohibit race-based pay inequalities.
“White men, black men, white women, black women — there’s no reason each of these people should be doing the same job and not getting the same rate of pay,” Turner Ford said.
Separate federal laws prohibit wage discrimination based on race or disability. Although people can already sue federally to challenge gender-based pay inequality, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said it could be cheaper to sue in court. of state.
A 2017 report from the Mississippi University Research Center showed that women earned 27% less than men for full-time work in Mississippi, compared to a 19% pay gap nationally. The study indicated that some of the gap could be explained by the types of jobs that women and men held, but the unexplained wage gap remained at about 18% in Mississippi and about 15% nationwide.
Fitch, a Republican, has pushed for equal pay legislation for years. In a statement Wednesday, she called it “basic fairness.”
If Reeves signs the bill, Fitch said: “We will take a giant step in closing the 27% pay gap – a pay gap that makes it harder for working women and their families, which that leads young Mississippi women to take their talents beyond our borders and perpetuates the cycle of poverty in our state. »
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