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Report: Microsoft Board in 20′ Thought Gates Should Resign over Relationship with Staffer


Microsoft Corp. board members decided that Bill Gates needed to step down in 2020 as they pursued an investigation into the billionaire’s prior romantic relationship with a female Microsoft employee that was deemed inappropriate, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Gates’s spokeswoman said the decision to leave the board in 2020 was not related to the issue.

In late 2019, some of Microsoft’s board members hired a law firm to investigate an alleged sexual relationship occurring over a number of years between Gates and a Microsoft engineer. The employee made the allegation in a letter, the people said.

During the probe, some board members decided it was no longer suitable for Gates to sit as a director at the software company.

Gates resigned before the board’s investigation was completed and before the full board could make a formal decision on the matter, the Journal reported.

“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 said.

“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.”

“There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably,” the spokeswoman for Gates said, adding that 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.”

Gates resigned from the Microsoft board on March 13, 2020, three months after he had been re-elected to his seat. In a press release filed with regulators and a post on LinkedIn, the billionaire said then he wanted to focus on his philanthropy and would continue to serve as a technical adviser to Chief Executive Satya Nadella.

That same day, he also vacated his board seat at Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the conglomerate run by Gates’s friend Warren Buffett.

Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, announced earlier this month that they were ending their marriage after 27 years. In a joint statement posted on Twitter, the couple said, “We no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.”

In a divorce petition, Melinda Gates said their marriage was “irretrievably broken.”

Melinda Gates had been working with lawyers at several firms since at least 2019 to unwind the marriage, the Journal reported last week. The couple has not said what prompted the split.

By 2020, the pair were already in discussions to divide their vast wealth and legal teams from both sides were privately in discussions with a mediator to work out a separation, the Journal previously reported.

The May 3 divorce filing says the couple had agreed to a separation contract to divide their assets — a fortune estimated at $130 billion by Forbes. The couple has said they would give away most of their wealth and so far has donated more than $36 billion to the Gates Foundation over the years. They plan to remain co-chairs at the foundation and jointly lead it even after their divorce is final, reported the Journal.

Bill Gates was Microsoft’s chief executive until 2000, chief software architect until 2006 and chairman until 2014. In recent years, Bill Gates continued to serve on the board and as a technical adviser to Nadella even as he shifted his focus to his philanthropy, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He continues to serve as a technical adviser to Mr. Nadella.

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