The abrupt departure by Bill Gates from the Microsoft board of directors last year came as the company was investigating a past relationship between the billionaire and a Microsoft staffer that was deemed inappropriate, according to a report.
Microsoft hired an outside law firm in 2019 to conduct the investigation after a Microsoft engineer alleged in a letter that she had a sexual relationship with Gates, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited "people familiar with the matter." The board of directors then decided Gates needed to step down as the company pursued the investigation, according to the report.
"Our reporting shows that this female Microsoft employee alleged in a letter that eventually got up to Microsoft board members that she had a multi-year sexual romantic relationship with Bill Gates," Journal reporter Emily Glazer, who helped break the story, told Miguel Almaguer on TODAY Monday.
"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 spokesperson told NBC News. "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."
A spokesperson for Gates denied that the investigation was the reason he stepped down from the board. At the time of his departure, Gates said he was leaving the board to devote "more time to philanthropic priorities."
"There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably," the spokesperson told NBC News. "Bill's 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."
The report is the latest bombshell involving Gates, 65, since the announcement earlier this month that he and his wife, Melinda, 56, are getting divorced after a 27-year marriage.
"The female employee really wanted Melinda Gates to read this letter, and we don't know if Melinda Gates read the letter, but that was something that was part of discussions as they were going toward a resolution," Glazer said.
Following the couple's announcement that they were splitting up, the Journal reported last week that the divorce has been in the works for years, partly out of Melinda's concern with her husband's dealings with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, which were detailed in a 2019 story by The New York Times.
The New York Times also reported on Sunday that Gates pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Gates Foundation, and that his behavior sometimes created an uncomfortable work environment, citing "people with direct knowledge of his overtures." Melinda also first met Gates when she was an employee at Microsoft.
A spokesperson for Gates denied the allegations in a statement to NBC News.
"It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances and the timeline of Bill Gates' divorce," she said. "Your characterization of his meetings with Epstein and others about philanthropy is inaccurate, including who participated. Similarly, any claim that Gates spoke of his marriage or Melinda in a disparaging manner is false. The claim of mistreatment of employees is also false."
The couple has agreed to a separation contract to divide their $130 billion fortune, according to their divorce filing. Melinda Gates also said her marriage is "irretrievably broken" in the court filing.