Report: Microsoft knew in ’08 about ‘inappropriate’ messages from Bill Gates to female employee

Bill Gates in 2013, at his final shareholder meeting as Microsoft chairman. (GeekWire File Photo)

Messages from Bill Gates to a female Microsoft employee were deemed “inappropriate” by the company in 2008, prompting two executives to speak to Gates about the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported today, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter.

According to the new report, this was not the same employee whose alleged affair with Gates 20 years ago was the subject of a 2019 investigation commissioned by the Microsoft board. That separate investigation was revealed in a Wall Street Journal report in May.

The latest report also provides new details about that 2019 investigation, citing unnamed people who said Microsoft’s board chairman at the time, John Thompson, decided not to disclose its existence to the full Microsoft board.

These reports have shed new light and raised questions about Gates’ behind-the-scenes behavior during his tenure as the company’s leader. These new details and allegations started to emerge after Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates announced plans to divorce in May. Their divorce was finalized in August.

In the latest report, the Wall Street Journal says Brad Smith, then Microsoft’s general counsel, and Lisa Brummel, then its chief people officer, “met with Mr. Gates and told him the behavior was inappropriate and needed to stop.” Gates agreed to stop, and Microsoft’s board “concluded no further action was warranted because there wasn’t physical interaction,” according to the report.

“While flirtatious, they were not overtly sexual, but were deemed to be inappropriate,” a Microsoft spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

A spokesperson for Gates told the Wall Street Journal that the claims overall include “false, recycled rumors from sources who have no direct knowledge, and in some cases have significant conflicts of interest.”

The emails were sent in 2007. This was after Gates had announced plans to step down from day-to-day work at Microsoft. He remained the company’s chairman until 2014 and a member of the board until 2020, and continues to serve as an advisor to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates are continuing to lead the Gates Foundation as co-chairs for a two-year trial period following their divorce.

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