Bill Gates acknowledged through a spokeswoman that he had an extramarital affair with a Microsoft employee, which Microsoft said led its board to investigate the “intimate relationship” shortly before he resigned from the board last year.
It is not clear what role the investigation or the affair, which took place two decades ago, played in the decision the Microsoft co-founder and his wife, Melinda French Gates, made to divorce after 27 years of marriage.
When they announced their divorce earlier this month, the couple posted identical and simultaneous tweets saying that “after a great deal of thought and a lot of work on our relationship, we have made the decision to end our marriage.”
In a divorce filing that day, French Gates called the marriage “irretrievably broken.”
“There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably,” Gates’s spokeswoman, Bridgitt Arnold, said in an emailed statement.
French Gates’s divorce lawyer, Robert Cohen, did not respond to a request for comment.
Members of Microsoft’s board in 2019 looked into a Microsoft engineer’s allegations that she had a sexual relationship with Gates, according to Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw.
“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,” Shaw said in an emailed statement.
“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.”
Gates stepped down from Microsoft’s board in March 2020, but Arnold disputed that his departure was related to the investigation into the affair. Gates departed the board before the investigation was complete, according to a person familiar with the probe who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.
“Bill’s decision to transition off the board was in no way related to this matter,” Arnold said. “In fact, he had expressed an interest in spending more time on his philanthropy starting several years earlier.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Microsoft directors decided that Gates needed to leave the board as it investigated the relationship. At the time Gates stepped down, he also left the board of Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by his longtime friend Warren Buffett. Gates also planned to continue to serve as technology adviser to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella and others at the company.
Shaw declined to say what the investigation revealed.
Separately, the New York Times reported Sunday that Gates pursued women who worked both at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. French Gates hired divorce lawyers in 2019, after meetings that Gates had with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein became public, the Times also reported. Epstein, who had been charged with sexually abusing dozens of young girls in the early 2000s, died by suicide while in custody in 2019.
Arnold said Gates’s relationship with Epstein was solely related to work.
“It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances and the timeline of Bill Gates’ divorce,” Arnold said.
Few details of Gates’s affair emerged, including the name of the employee, how long their relationship lasted and whether she continues to work for Microsoft. It is also unclear what led the employee to report the relationship with Gates to the company when she did.
The relationship, as well as allegations of pursuing other employees reported by the New York Times, muddies Gates’s legacy.
Before Gates received the President Medal of Freedom and an honorary knighthood in the United Kingdom for his philanthropic work, he was known as a brass-knuckled competitor and an unforgiving boss who dished out withering criticism to employees whose ideas he disliked.
Gates’s public persona changed as he became better known for the work of his foundation, which has sought to address issues of global inequality. As the coronavirus raged, Gates emerged as a leading advocate for science-based approaches to end the pandemic.
That work has helped burnish his reputation. But revelations that Gates abused his position of power in the relationship with the Microsoft employee or had a more extensive relationship with Epstein would tarnish that.
Four Gates friends and former colleagues expressed sadness over the news of the affair. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly, and none claimed any previous knowledge of the affair.
The Gateses’ divorce came as a surprise to many, who saw them as a power couple in the world of philanthropy. They spent much of the past two decades running their foundation, which has issued nearly $55 billion in total grant payments through the end of 2019. The couple said in their tweets that they will continue to run the foundation together.
Forbes estimates Gates’s net worth at $128.3 billion, ranking him fourth on its list of the world’s wealthiest people.