Microsoft founder Bill Gates has denied his exit from the company’s board in 2020 was the result of a probe into an earlier romantic relationship he had with a female employee that was deemed inappropriate.
A Microsoft engineer had alleged in a letter that she had a years-long sexual relationship with Gates, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.
Some board members said during the probe that it was no longer appropriate for Gates to sit as a director, though Gates resigned from his position before the board could make a final decision.
A spokeswoman for Gates told the paper: “There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably.” She said 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.”
A Microsoft spokesman said the board was told the affair started in 2000, and was informed in the latter half of 2019. “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,” he said.
Gates and his wife Melinda said earlier this month that they were ending their 27-year marriage, though the process reportedly began long before. In a joint statement at the time, the couple said: “We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”
Despite having only been re-elected to his board seat three months earlier, Gates stepped down from the Microsoft board in March last year. He said at the time that he wished to focus more on his philanthropic work, and would continue to advise current Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.
Gates also exited his role on the board of investment firm Berkshire Hathaway on the same day, The Journal reported.
Following a string of female employees reporting sexual harassment and discrimination at Microsoft in the first half of 2019, the software company said it would change its process for handling such complaints. It also planned to increase its attention on the matter, boosting training and staff numbers to deal with the issue.
People told The Wall Street Journal that following Gates’ philanthropic ties to disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, they did not want the Microsoft founder to suffer the same #MeToo treatment.
The combined fortune of Bill and Melinda Gates is estimated at $130bn, according to calculations by Forbes. The two plan to remain co-chairs of their charitable foundation following their divorce, and have said they will give away most of their wealth.
Microsoft was contacted for further comment.
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