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Microsoft Corp. While a 2019 letter from a U.S. engineer reports a relationship with Bill Gates prior to his exit from the board, it wasn’t the first time some Microsoft directors faced the billionaire’s unfair treatment of female employees.

According to people familiar with the matter, more than a decade ago, Microsoft executives discovered an email between Mr. Gates and a middle-level female employee at the company, while Mr. Gates was still a Microsoft employee and chairman of the board. Were. The messages had the then-married Mr Gates flirtatious and proposed to the female employee, the people said.


People said two of Microsoft’s top executives, then-General Counsel Brad Smith and then-Chief People Officer Lisa Brummel, met with Mr. Gates and told him the behavior was inappropriate and needed to stop. Mr Gates did not rule out exchanges, told officials it was not a good idea and said he would stop, the people said.

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Officials briefed some of Microsoft’s board members, the people said, and a board committee discussed the matter. People said the board concluded that no further action was necessary as there was no physical contact.

Microsoft spokesman Frank Shaw said that in 2008, shortly before Mr Gates retired as a full-time employee, the company learned of an email sent in 2007. In the email, Mr. Gates offered to meet the female employee in and out of work. campus, Mr Shaw said. “While flirting, they were not openly sexual, but were considered inappropriate,” he said. Mr Shaw said the employee never complained about the incident, which had not been previously reported.

Brigitte Arnold, a spokeswoman for Mr Gates, said in a written statement: “These claims are false, rumors recycled from sources with no direct knowledge, and in some cases significant conflicts of interest.”

Mr. Gates, one of the world’s richest people, was the chief executive officer of Microsoft until 2000, a full-time employee until 2008, and chairman until 2014. He served on the Microsoft board for more than four decades, until he resigned from his seat in March 2020. The following year, Mr Gates and his wife Melinda French Gates filed for an end to their 27-year marriage. The divorce was finalized in August. The two jointly lead the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world.

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At the time Mr Gates resigned from the Microsoft board, a board committee hired a law firm to investigate a 2019 letter from a female engineer alleges a former sexual relationship with Mr Gates It was, as The Wall Street Journal reported in May. This was not the same woman Mr Gates had previously warned not to pursue, some people familiar with the matter said. Mr. Shaw said the relationship happened around 2002 but Microsoft didn’t know about it until 2019.

The Journal has since learned more about how Microsoft’s board handled the 2019 investigation. Mr Smith, who is now Microsoft’s president and vice president, and CEO Satya Nadella were among the officials who reviewed the 2019 letter, according to people familiar with the matter.

Microsoft’s board chairman at the time, John W. Thompson, asked other members of the committee reviewing the letter not to share the existence of the investigation with the full Microsoft board, citing concerns about the sensitive nature of the case, according to People. he said. People said that board members who read the letter had to return their copy to Microsoft’s general counsel.

Several lawyers advising the boards said that generally, when a board decides to conduct an investigation, the full board decides to proceed for approval and the full board is aware of the ongoing investigation.

“If you’re going to do an investigation that requires independent advisors, you need board approval,” said David Berger, a partner specializing in corporate governance at the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, Who also advises the boards.

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Microsoft’s Mr Shaw said that under the board’s governance guidelines, it has empowered the Nominating and Governance Committee authorities to hire outside lawyers. “While best practices of governance are always evolving, the Chairman of the Board and the Committee, in consultation with an external legal advisor, decided to exercise the responsibility given to it and proceed with the initial stages of the review, recognizing that that the matter may proceed to full board at its later stages,” he said in a written statement.

Some of the directors decided he should step down, but Gates gave up his board seat before the investigation was completed, the Journal previously reported. Mr Gates’ spokesman has said that they had an affair about 20 years ago, it ended amicably and that a board review played no part in his departure. Microsoft said the board committee conducted a thorough review and provided assistance to the employee who made the complaint.

Several current and former board members and executives at Microsoft said they believed concerns about Mr. Gates’ treatment of female employees were handled properly. He said attitudes and protocols have changed in recent years with the #MeToo movement.

Maria Clave, Microsoft director from 2009 to 2015, said she was not aware of any concerns about Mr. Gates and female employees, more broadly, that she felt at times behaved as if the rules applied to her. Wouldn’t.

Ms. Clave, president of the math- and science-focused Harvey Mudd College, said: “They certainly gave the impression that they felt they had a place that gave them a special, a set of rights that other people have. Will not done.”

Mr. Gates’ spokesman Mr. Shaw and Ms. Arnold declined to comment on Ms. Claw’s remarks.

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According to one person, long before the 2019 letter and the 2007 email, at least one Microsoft board member was informed of a romantic relationship by a top executive that Mr. Gates, then CEO, was in 1992 with a woman. Was with a Microsoft executive. familiar with the matter. The entire board was not informed of the matter, the person said. This woman was not Ms. French Gates, the person said.

Ms. French Gates was a Microsoft employee when she first met Mr. Gates in 1987. They married in 1994 and Ms. French Gates stopped working at Microsoft in 1996, the same year the couple had the first of three children.

Mr. Shaw said Microsoft is not aware of any reports of concern raised about a romantic relationship between Mr. Gates and a female employee in that time frame. Ms Arnold declined to comment.

Mr Gates remains a technical adviser to Mr Nadella, who took over as Microsoft’s board chair in June for Mr Thompson, who is now the lead independent director. A Microsoft spokesperson said at the time the change of chairman had nothing to do with Mr. Gates’ exit from the board.

Asked about Mr Gates during a recent conference, Mr Nadella said, “He is very busy with the things he cares about.” Mr. Nadella said the company had changed since Mr. Gates was its leader and that he and his team were responsible for shaping its current workplace culture. “We are by no means perfect,” Mr. Nadella said, “but we care deeply about all the themes of our culture and we are working on it every day.”

Aaron Tilley contributed to this article