The Texas Department of Agriculture is ordering its employees to comply with a new dress code, mandating they abide by it in a "manner consistent with their biological gender." An ACLU attorney says it violates federal law that bans employment discrimination based on one's sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a copy of the April 13 memo first obtained by The Texas Observer, the new dress code — handed down by Sid Miller, the state's agriculture commissioner — is required by all employees as a part of a "dress code and grooming policy."

"Employees are expected to comply with this dress code in a manner consistent with their biological gender," the new policy said.

The new dress code restrictions for employees will replace the previous one outlined by the state agency's employee handbook, The Observer reported. The original dress code made no references to "biological gender."

The new dress code policy will apply to all employees of the department — including interns and contractors, according to the policy. Those who violate the mandated dress code may face severe consequences and may be asked to leave the premises to change clothes that comply with the policy.

If problems with an employee's dress continue, employees can face "remedies up to and including termination," the memo says.

It's unclear whether the decision to change the dress code began within Miller's office or is a result of a mandate higher up within the state's government. The Texas Department of Agriculture did not immediately respond to NPR's request for comment about the new dress code.

The ACLU says the new dress code violates federal law

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas, told The Texas Tribune that the new dress code violates Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, which bans employment discrimination based on one's sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to the First Amendment's right to free expression.

"State agencies should be focused on doing their jobs and not discriminating against their own employees and trying to make political statements through their agency regulations," Klosterboer told The Tribune.

"There is no important governmental interest that this can meet," he added.

The new dress code comes on in the wake of several anti-LGBTQ bills and laws that have been introduced in the state over the last few years.

Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott directed the state's Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate certain gender-affirming care for transgender children as possible child abuse.

In 2021, Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which requires all public school students to compete in interscholastic athletic competitions based solely on their assigned sex at birth. The law, which went into effect in January 2022, made Texas the 10th state to enact similar legislation.

Last year, nearly 300 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed during state legislative sessions. However, only 29 of those bills were signed into law.

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