Board members for Microsoft determined in 2020 that the company’s co-founder, Bill Gates, needed to step down from his own role on the board amid an investigation into a past affair with a female Microsoft employee, according to a new report.
The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, first reported on Sunday that the company hired a law firm to investigate the claims after an engineer wrote a letter in 2019 that detailed a prior relationship Gates had with a female employee. The company confirmed it opened what it called a “thorough investigation” at the time, although it did not say if it had urged Gates to leave his post at the tech behemoth.
“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 an emailed statement. “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.”
Gates resigned from the board in March 2020, as well as the board of Berkshire Hathaway, saying at the time he did so “to dedicate more time to philanthropic priorities.”
In a statement to the Journal, a Gates spokeswoman confirmed “there was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably,” but insisted Gates stepped down of his own accord.
“[His] decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter,” the spokeswoman added. “In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier.”
The report adds new scrutiny to Gates’ behavior following news of his divorce. Bill and Melinda French Gates, who were married for 27 years, announced their separation earlier this month, saying they “no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”
In its own report on Sunday, The New York Times said Gates had developed a reputation at Microsoft for questionable conduct around women. The outlet, citing people with knowledge of his behavior, said he occasionally pursued female employees, including one instance where he emailed a woman after a presentation to ask her out for dinner.
“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” the email, which was read to the Times, reportedly said.
The Times also added more detail about Gates’ scrutinized contact with Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who was charged with sex trafficking of girls. The outlet published a story in 2019 noting the two men had flown together on Epstein’s private jet and attended events at Epstein’s townhouse, details of which reportedly prompted Melinda Gates to hire divorce attorneys.
The Times added that details in its story were new information to Melinda Gates. Gates has not been accused of any wrongdoing in relation to Epstein and has said publicly that he regrets his contact with the man. A spokesperson told the paper on Sunday that Gates had solely met with him to discuss his philanthropic pursuits.
Epstein later died by suicide while in federal custody in 2019.