Microsoft brass knew that founder and former chairman of the board Bill Gates was propositioning female staff at the company as early as 2008 and told him to stop, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
Gates, who at the time was married to his now-ex-wife Melinda Gates, has already admitted to one affair with a female engineer that took place around 2002. That indiscretion reportedly wasn’t uncovered by Microsoft until sometime in 2019. Gates had long since left his role as CEO and had departed as chairman of the board in 2014, but he resigned from the board completely shortly after colleagues learned of the affair. The incident reported by the Journal on Monday involves a separate woman, a mid-level employee that Gates reportedly sent flirtatious emails asking to meet off-campus and outside of regular work hours.
Gates sent the emails in 2007, according to the outlet, and Microsoft learned of them the next year. Then-General Counsel Brad Smith and then-Chief People Officer Lisa Brummel met with Gates and instructed him that the messages were not OK and needed to cease immediately. Gates reportedly admitted that maybe sending them wasn’t the greatest idea and agreed to stop asking the woman for a liaison.
Microsoft’s board determined that no further action was warranted because the issue never expanded outside emails, the Journal reported.
Microsoft verified that the incident occurred, with company spokesperson Frank Shaw telling the paper that “While flirtatious, they [the emails] were not overtly sexual, but were deemed to be inappropriate.” Representatives for Gates chose to instead deny the matter entirely. Spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold told the Journal the accounts of such inappropriate interactions were “false, recycled rumours” from secondhand sources, some with conflicts of interest.
The Journal also reported that it had learned more about the board’s hiring of an independent law firm to investigate the affair learned of in 2019, such as that Smith and now-CEO Satya Nadella were involved and that chairman John W. Thompson asked members aware of the inquiry not to leak it to the full board. That is unusual, lawyers familiar with these types of investigations told the Journal, as typically the entire board is notified. However, “several current and former” members of the board told the paper they believed the matter was adequately handled at the time.
In addition to the two accounts of the Microsoft founder’s unseemly interactions with female employees, Gates’s reputation has been badly damaged by reports of his apparent friendship with the late billionaire, pedophile, and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died by suicide in 2019 while awaiting prosecution on federal child sex trafficking charges.
After Epstein’s death, Gates initially denied that he was friends with Epstein at all and characterised any interactions between them as mere fundraising activities for his charitable foundation’s philanthropic endeavours. But a series of media reports emphasised that the two hung out on numerous occasions and despite the protestations of Melinda Gates, who apparently told Gates that striking up a friendship with a man convicted of procuring a child for prostitution in 2008 was a bad idea. One former staffer at the charitable foundation told the Daily Beast that Gates hoped Epstein could help him win a Nobel Prize. Bill and Melinda’s divorce was reportedly kicked in motion when she learned reporters were digging into the matter.
Gates was visibly caught off guard and clearly unsettled when asked about Epstein during a PBS interview in September 2021, telling Newshour host Judy Woodruff “You know, I had… dinners with him… I regret doing that…”
“… Uh, you know, those meetings were a mistake,” Gates added. “They didn’t result in what he purported, and I cut him off. You know that goes back a long time ago now. I just… so there’s nothing new on that.”
When asked if he had learned any lessons from the PR disaster, Gates oddly responded, “Well, he’s dead, so, uh, in general, you always have to be careful.”
Maria Klawe, who worked as a Microsoft director from 2009 to 2015, told the Journal that she wasn’t aware of any concerns regarding Gates’s interactions with other women at the company but that he often acted like he was above the rules governing the behaviour of others.
“He certainly gave the impression that he felt that he had a standing that gave him a particular, a set of rights, that other people wouldn’t have,” Klawe told the paper.