Some Microsoft board members concluded that Bill Gates had to step down last year because of an investigation into an alleged affair with an employee, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Gates eventually stepped down from the board in March 2020, bringing the WSJ said was before the investigation was completed.
The board reportedly hired a law firm in 2019 to investigate the matter after a Microsoft employee claimed in a letter that she had been in a sexual relationship with Gates for many years. The employee, who was an engineer at the company, is said to have asked Melinda French Gates, who was married to Bill at the time, to read her letter, although it is unclear whether that actually happened. Gates and French Gates announced their divorce this month.
“Microsoft became concerned in the second half of 2019 that Bill Gates wanted to enter into an intimate relationship with an employee of the company in 2000,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to the company. WSJ. “A Board committee has assessed the concerns, assisted by an outside law firm to conduct a thorough investigation. During the investigation, Microsoft provided extensive support to the employee who raised the concern. “
A spokesman for Gates denies that his resignation from the board was related to the investigation. “There was an affair that ended amicably nearly 20 years ago,” said the spokesman WSJ, adding that his “decision to transfer management was in no way related to this issue. He had even expressed an interest in devoting more time to his philanthropy, which had started several years earlier. “
But according to the WSJ, some board members decided “it was no longer appropriate” for Gates to remain a director at Microsoft as more information on the matter was revealed, and Gates stepped down before an official decision could be made. Microsoft had pledged earlier that year to improve the way it handled harassment complaints after several women shared dozens of their negative experiences at the company through an internal email chain.
The board also reportedly inquired about Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender, but “was told the relationship was focused on philanthropy and nothing more.” A report in The Daily Beasthowever, says Gates met Epstein dozens of times between 2011 and 2014, often seeking advice about his marriage to French Gates. The New York Times also reports that Gates said he was unhappy in his marriage while in Epstein’s presence “on at least one occasion.”
Gates’s association with Epstein has been a concern for Melinda French Gates, who hired divorce lawyers shortly after reports of the couple’s interactions went public, according to the WSJ and the NOW. French Gates is also said to be dissatisfied with the way Gates has handled a sexual harassment complaint against his money manager Michael Larson. The NOW reports that after the woman who filed the allegations agreed to a settlement, French Gates called for an independent review of the allegations and the culture at Gates’ investment company. Larson was given leave, but later returned to work; it is not known whether the report approved him.