Bill Gates' Microsoft Board Ouster Was Decided After Affair With Staffer Came to Light

Bill Gates was reportedly ousted from the Microsoft Corp. board in 2020 following an investigation into a romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee. At the time of the alleged affair, Gates was married to Melinda French Gates. The former couple announced their divorce on May 3. The couple had three children, Jennifer, Rory, and Phoebe, during their 27-year marriage.

Members of the Microsoft board hired a law firm to investigate the alleged affair in late 2019 after a Microsoft engineer shared a letter in which she claimed she and Gates had a sexual relationship for several years, sources told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday. During the investigation, some board members decided Gates could no longer be the director of the company, the source said. Gates announced his plan to leave both the boards of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in March 2020. At that time, the investigation was not completed and the board had yet to make an official decision on the situation, another source told the Journal.

"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 spokesman told the Journal. "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 spokeswoman for Gates also confirmed there was an affair "almost 20 years ago" that "ended amicably." Gates' decision to "transition off the board was in no way related to this matter," the spokeswoman said. "In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier."

A short time before the Journal's report was published, the New York Times published its own report on Gates' behavior. Sources told the Times that he "pursued" women who worked at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and he was "dismissive" of French Gates during foundation meetings. The Times also obtained an email Gates allegedly sent to a woman who delivered a presentation in 2006. After the presentation, Gates allegedly asked the woman out to dinner, according to two sources. Multiple Microsoft employees told the Times that Gates' unwanted advances towards women often created an "uncomfortable workplace environment." Some said they disapproved of Gates' actions, but they "did not perceive it to be predatory."

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French Gates was also uncomfortable with Gates' handling of a sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager, Michael Larson, in 2018. Gates settled the claims confidentially, but French Gates wanted an outside investigation. French Gates was also unhappy with Gates' relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. According to the Times, after this became public knowledge in October 2019, French Gates hired divorce lawyers.

"It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances, and the timeline of Bill Gates's divorce," Gates' spokeswoman Brdgitt Arnold told the Times. "Your characterization of his meetings with Epstein and others about philanthropy is inaccurate, including who participated." Arnold said allegations that Gates "spoke of his marriage or Melinda in a disparaging manner" is false, as are claims of employees' mistreatment. "The rumors and speculation surrounding Gates's divorce are becoming increasingly absurd, and it's unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge of the situation are being characterized as 'sources,'" Arnold said.