Two top Microsoft executives warned Bill Gates in 2008 that his flirtatious emails they had discovered with a midlevel female employee were inappropriate and needed to stop, according to people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
Gates, who at the time was chairman of the board and married, did not deny the exchanges, admitted that they were not a good idea and said that he would not continue them, the sources said.
This was more than a decade before the 2019 letter from a Microsoft engineer alleging that she and Gates had a sexual relationship over the years prior to his departure from the board.
The executives briefed some members of Microsoft’s board in 2008 about the flirtatious emails, according to the sources, and a board committee talked about the subject. However, it decided to take no further action because the exchanges did not include any physical interaction.
Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw told the Journal that Gates in the emails proposed meeting the female employee outside of work and off campus, adding that “while flirtatious, they were not overtly sexual, but were deemed to be inappropriate.”
Shaw said the female employee never made a complaint about the incident, which has not been previously reported.
A spokeswoman for Gates, Bridgitt Arnold, said that "these claims are false, recycled rumors from sources who have no direct knowledge, and in some cases have significant conflicts of interest."
Gates served on the Microsoft board for more than four decades until he resigned his seat in March 2020, at which time a board committee had hired a law firm to investigate the female engineer’s 2019 letter.
Gates and his wife, Melinda French Gates, divorced earlier this year after 27 years of marriage, although the two continue to jointly lead the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Microsoft’s board chair at the time, John Thompson, requested that other members of the committee reviewing the letter not share the existence of the probe with the full Microsoft board due to the sensitive nature of the matter, the sources said.
Gates gave up his board seat after some directors decided he should do so but before the probe was completed, The Wall Street Journal reported in May.
But Arnold, Gates’s spokeswoman, said the board’s review had no impact on his departure, as he had an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably.
Microsoft said the board committee carried out a thorough review and gave support to the employee who made the complaint.
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