Microsoft leaders warned Bill Gates over 'inappropriate' e-mails

The 2008 incident involved messages in which then Microsoft chairman Bill Gates asked an employee out on a date. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Microsoft executives warned Mr Bill Gates in 2008 about inappropriate e-mails he had sent to a female employee, a spokesman for the company said on Monday (Oct 18).

The warning involved messages in which Mr Gates, who at the time was a full-time employee and the company's chairman, asked an employee out on a date. Senior Microsoft executives learnt of the e-mails in 2008, according to spokesman Frank Shaw.

"These e-mails proposed meeting outside of work and off campus," Mr Shaw said. "While flirtatious, they were not overtly sexual but were deemed to be inappropriate."

After they discovered the messages, executives warned Mr Gates that his behaviour was inappropriate and notified a small group of board members about the incident, Mr Shaw said.

Mr Gates told the board members that he agreed that what he had done was inappropriate, and the board took no further action.

Mr Gates left the company shortly thereafter in a long-planned departure, though he remained a member of its board until last year. The executives' warning to Mr Gates were reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

Ms Bridgitt Arnold, a spokesman for Mr Gates, told the Journal: "These claims are false, recycled rumours from sources who have no direct knowledge and, in some cases, have significant conflicts of interest."

She had no additional comment when contacted by The New York Times.

In 2019, after the Times reported on Mr Gates' long-running relationship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Microsoft's board began looking into a report that Mr Gates had, years earlier, had a sexual relationship with a subordinate at Microsoft.

Mr Gates and his wife Melinda announced earlier this year that they were ending their marriage after 27 years.

The Times reported in May that Mr Gates had developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings. The article described him making an overture to a female Microsoft employee after having attended a presentation by her while he was the company's chairman.

Mr Gates left the meeting and immediately e-mailed the woman to ask her out to dinner, the Times reported.

"If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened," Mr Gates wrote in the e-mail, according to a person who read it to the Times.

Mr Shaw said on Monday that it was Mr Gates' e-mails to that female employee that triggered the executives' warning in 2008.

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