Bill Gates ‘Developed a Reputation for Questionable Conduct,’ Made Advances on Colleagues: Report
A spokesperson for Bill Gates tells PEOPLE in a statement that "the claim of mistreatment of employees" is false
Bill Gates allegedly had a reputation for pursuing women who worked for him, something that created an "uncomfortable workplace environment" in the years before he and wife Melinda French Gates called it quits, according to a New York Times report.
The lengthy Times report, which was published on Sunday, alleged that the Microsoft cofounder, 65, was known for exhibiting "questionable conduct in work-related settings," and "on at least a few occasions" made attempts to pursue women who worked for him both at Microsoft and at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which he founded with his estranged wife in 2000. A spokesperson for Bill tells PEOPLE that "the claim of mistreatment of employees" is false.
Examples given to the Times by people familiar with the situations include an instance in 2006, when Bill, then the chairman of Microsoft, attended a presentation by a female employee and then allegedly emailed her asking her to dinner.
"If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened," Bill reportedly wrote in the email.
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Several years later, Bill was on a work trip to New York with the foundation and was traveling with a female employee, the woman told the newspaper. At a cocktail party, he allegedly told her, "I want to see you. Will you have dinner with me?" — a request she said made her uncomfortable.
The article was published around the same time as a Wall Street Journal report that alleged Bill stepped down from the Microsoft board last year following an investigation into a past affair with a staffer, something he said was not the reason for his departure.
A spokesperson for Bill told PEOPLE in a statement that while there was an affair nearly 20 years ago that "ended amicably," it had nothing to do with her client's decision to transition off the board.
"It is extremely disappointing that there have been so many untruths published about the cause, the circumstances and the timeline of Bill Gates's divorce," the spokesperson says in an additional statement obtained by PEOPLE. "[The New York Times's] 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 rumors and speculation surrounding Gates's 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.'"
"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 said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "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."
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The Times reported that some employees said they did not believe Bill's behavior to be "predatory," and that he did not pressure women into accepting his advances.
A rep for Melinda — who met Bill after she joined Microsoft as a product manager in 1987 — did not immediately return PEOPLE's request for comment.
Bill and Melinda, 56, announced their divorce after 27 years of marriage on May 3.
While it remains unclear just what Melinda knew of her husband's alleged indiscretions, the two reportedly butted heads over multiple other issues, including a sexual harassment claim against Bill's longtime money manager, and his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The Times reported Melinda was unhappy with the outcome of a sexual harassment claim against Michael Larson, the money manager, and insisted on an outside investigation after Bill tried to settle it confidentially in 2018.
Larson reportedly works through a "secretive operation" called Cascade Investments, which owned assets and puts the Gateses' money "in other investments vehicles" — including Rally Capital, which had an ownership stake in a bicycle shop near Kirkland, Washington.
According to the Times, the bike shop's manager wrote a letter to Bill and Melinda Gates in 2017 accusing Larson of sexual harassment, and requesting their help before she possibly pursued legal action.
Three people familiar with the claim told the Times that the woman reached a settlement in 2018 in which she received a payment in exchange for signing a nondisclosure agreement — a conclusion that allegedly did not satisfy Melinda, who "called for a law firm to conduct an independent review of the woman's allegations, and of Cascade's culture."
The outcome of the investigation remains unclear, and though Larson was put on leave during it, he was reportedly reinstated, and is still in charge of Cascade. He did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment, and PEOPLE was unable to reach a spokesperson for Cascade.
Meanwhile, Melinda was also reportedly uncomfortable will Bill's associations with Jeffrey Epstein, whom he first met in 2011 — after the late financier had already pleaded guilty to soliciting prostitution from a minor. The Times on Sunday reported that she felt "unhappy" when that relationship became public knowledge in 2019, and subsequently consulted with divorce lawyers.
A source recently told PEOPLE that Bill's connection to "Epstein is definitely a sore spot" for Melinda, adding, "That's a long time for issues to fester."
In 2019, when Times published an article exploring the pair's relationship, Bill's spokeswoman Bridgitt Arnold said that Bill "regretted the relationship with Epstein," and that he was unaware a private jet he'd flown on belonged to Epstein.
Arnold also denied to the outlet that Bill ever socialized or attended parties with Epstein, and said they only ever met to "discuss philanthropy."
People who were allegedly present at the time, however, told the Times that Bill "remarked in Mr. Epstein's presence that he was unhappy in his marriage" at least one time, according to the newspaper.
Bill and Melinda surprised the world when they announced their split on May 3, saying in a joint social media statement that they "no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives," but will continue to work together at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Melinda said in court documents filed that same day that her marriage to Bill was "irretrievably broken," and that while they do not have a prenuptial agreement in place, their assets will be divided according to a separation agreement.
The estranged couple shares three children, daughters Jennifer, 25, and Phoebe, 18, and son Rory, 21.
A friend recently told PEOPLE, "I think the whole family wishes this would go away so they can return to their lives — whatever that may be now."