Melinda French Gates started talking with divorce lawyers in late 2019, not long after The New York Times reported that Bill Gates had more interactions with pedophile and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein that she had known about, the Times and The Wall Street Journal report. But it was also in late 2019 that Microsoft's board became aware of a letter from a Microsoft engineer who said she had been in a sexual relationship with Bill Gates years earlier, the Journal reported Sunday evening.
The couple announced their divorce May 3, after 27 years of marriage.
Microsoft board members hired a law firm to investigate the woman's allegations and deemed the relationship inappropriate, and by early 2020 "some board members decided it was no longer suitable for Mr. Gates to sit as a director at the software company he started and led for decades," the Journal reports. "Mr. Gates resigned before the board's investigation was completed and before the full board could make a formal decision on the matter." He had just been re-elected to the board in December 2019, three months before his March 13, 2020, resignation.
"There was an affair almost 20 years ago which ended amicably," Bridgitt Arnold, a spokeswoman for Bill Gates, said in a statement. "Gates' 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."
Melinda Gates had been upset with her future ex-husband on and off for years, including over a sexual harassment settlement Bill Gates had facilitated for the couple's longtime financial adviser, the Times reports. "In some circles, Bill Gates had also developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings," and on at least a few occasions he had "pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation."
"It is not clear how much Ms. French Gates knew about her husband's behavior or to what degree it contributed to their split," the Times reports.
Arnold, the spokeswoman, told the Times "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 added, "The rumors and speculation surrounding Gates' divorce are becoming increasingly absurd, and it's unfortunate that people who have little to no knowledge of the situation are being characterized as 'sources.'"