Microsoft warned Bill Gates against sending inappropriate messages to female staff in 2008: Report

The Nation  |  Oct 19, 2021

The news is likely to add pressure to the Microsoft co-founder, who has come under intense media scrutiny this year after he and his wife Melinda announced they were ending their marriage.

Although the couple signalled that it was a joint decision, some reports suggested that Melinda Gates had grown tired of her husband's extramarital affairs.

According to sources, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates sent flirtatious messages to a midlevel female employee in the mid-noughties. The report citied most people were familiar with the matter. According to sources, the then-married entrepreneur propositioned the woman in 2007. The insiders did not reveal the identity of the employee.

After Microsoft's executives - then-General Counsel Brad Smith and and then-Chief People Officer Lisa Brummel - were informed about Gates' letters in 2008 they held a conversation with him, telling him that his behaviour was inappropriate and needed to stop. Per people familiar with the matter, Gates didn't deny he wrote the messages and admitted that it wasn't a good idea.

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The executives then briefed several members of the board about the incident. Following a discussion, the board decided not to take action because there was no physical interaction between Gates and the woman, the report states. 

Microsoft confirmed the report to the Associated Press, but the firm declined to comment on it. Spokesman Frank Shaw stated that although the messages were flirtatious they were not "overtly sexual". The employee never made a complaint against the co-founder, Shaw said. Bridgitt Arnold, a spokeswoman for Bill Gates, has dismissed the report.

"These claims are false, recycled rumours from sources who have no direct knowledge, and in some cases have significant conflicts of interest", she said.

In 2020, Gates resigned from the board of directors of Microsoft after serving there for over four decades. In May 2021, after he and his wife Melinda announced their separation, it became known that at the time he resigned from the board of directors the company had hired a law firm to investigate a claim from a female employee. The Microsoft engineer wrote a letter to company executives, alleging that she had a sexual relationship with Gates in the noughties, which lasted for several years.

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Gates' spokeswoman admitted the existence of the affair, which she said ended "amicably", but denied that the company's investigation into it was the reason Bill Gates decided to resign from the board of directors.

Microsoft said it conducted a thorough investigation into the complaint and provided support to the female in question. Employees who spoke with The Wall Street Journal, both current and former, said they believe Microsoft properly handled concerns about Bill Gates behaviour with female employees.

The newspaper writes, citing a person familiar with the matter, that Gates had a romantic relationship with a woman in 1992, two years before he married Melinda French. The board of directors wasn't informed of the matter.

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