Some of Microsoft’s board members concluded that Bill Gates should step down last year as an investigation was being conducted into an alleged affair with an employee, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal. Gates ultimately resigned from the board in March 2020, which the WSJ says was before the investigation had been completed.
The board reportedly hired a law firm in 2019 to investigate the matter following a Microsoft employee alleging in a letter that she had had a sexual relationship with Gates over many years. The employee, who was an engineer at the company, is said to have asked that Melinda French Gates, who was married to Bill at the time, read her letter, though it’s unclear whether that actually happened. Gates and French Gates announced their separation this month.
“Microsoft received a concern in the latter half of 2019 that Bill Gates sought to initiate an intimate relationship with a company employee in the year 2000,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to the WSJ. “A committee of the Board reviewed the concern, aided by an outside law firm to conduct a thorough investigation. Throughout the investigation, Microsoft provided extensive support to the employee who raised the concern.”
A spokesperson for Gates denies that his resignation from the board was related to the investigation. “There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably,” the spokesperson tells the WSJ, adding that his “decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter. In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier.”
But according to the WSJ, some board members “decided it was no longer suitable” for Gates to remain a director at Microsoft as more information about the matter was revealed, and Gates stepped down before an official decision could be made. Microsoft had earlier that year pledged to improve the way it handled harassment complaints after several women shared dozens of their negative experiences at the company on an internal email chain.
The board also reportedly inquired about Gates’ relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender, but “were told the relationship was focused on philanthropy and nothing more.” A report in The Daily Beast, however, says Gates met Epstein dozens of times between 2011 and 2014, often seeking counsel 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’ association with Epstein was a source of concern for Melinda French Gates, who hired divorce lawyers soon after reports of the pair’s interactions became public, according to the WSJ and the NYT. French Gates is also said to have been unhappy with how Gates handled a sexual harassment complaint against his money manager Michael Larson. The NYT reports that after the woman who made the claims agreed to a settlement, French Gates called for an independent review of the allegations and the culture at Gates’ investment company. Larson was put on leave but later returned to the job; it’s not known whether the report cleared him.