By the time Melinda French Gates decided to end her 27-year marriage, her husband was known globally as a software pioneer, a billionaire and a leading philanthropist.
But in some circles, Bill Gates had also developed a reputation for questionable conduct in work-related settings. That is attracting new scrutiny amid the breakup of one of the world’s richest, most powerful couples.
In 2018, Ms. French Gates wasn’t satisfied with her husband’s handling of a previously undisclosed sexual harassment claim against his longtime money manager, according to two people familiar with the matter. After Mr. Gates moved to settle the matter confidentially, Ms. French Gates insisted on an outside investigation. The money manager, Michael Larson, remains in his job.
On at least a few occasions, Mr. Gates pursued women who worked for him at Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to people with direct knowledge of his overtures. In meetings at the foundation, he was at times dismissive toward his wife, witnesses said.
public view, Ms. French Gates was unhappy. She hired divorce lawyers, setting in motion a process that culminated this month with the announcement that their marriage was ending.
a public appearance in 2016.
Long after they married in 1994, Mr. Gates would on occasion pursue women in the office.
In 2006, for example, he attended a presentation by a female Microsoft employee. Mr. Gates, who at the time was the company’s chairman, left the meeting and immediately emailed the woman to ask her out to dinner, according to two people familiar with the exchange.
“If this makes you uncomfortable, pretend it never happened,” Mr. Gates wrote in an email, according to a person who read it to The New York Times.
in a column in Time magazine announcing the pledge.
money manager, earning solid returns on the Gateses’ and the foundation’s combined $174 billion investment portfolio through a secretive operation called Cascade Investment. Cascade owned assets like stocks, bonds, hotels and vast tracts of farmland, and it also put the Gateses’ money in other investment vehicles. One was a venture capital firm called Rally Capital, which is in the same building that Cascade occupies in Kirkland, Wash.
Rally Capital had an ownership stake in a nearby bicycle shop. In 2017, the woman who managed the bike shop hired a lawyer, who wrote a letter to Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates.
The letter said that Mr. Larson had been sexually harassing the manager of the bike shop, according to three people familiar with the claim. The letter said the woman had tried to handle the situation on her own, without success, and she asked the Gateses for help. If they didn’t resolve the situation, the letter said, she might pursue legal action.
The woman reached a settlement in 2018 in which she signed a nondisclosure agreement in exchange for a payment, the three people said.
While Mr. Gates thought that brought the matter to an end, Ms. French Gates was not satisfied with the outcome, two of the people said. She called for a law firm to conduct an independent review of the woman’s allegations, and of Cascade’s culture. Mr. Larson was put on leave while the investigation was underway, but he was eventually reinstated. (It is unclear whether the investigation exonerated Mr. Larson.) He remains in charge of Cascade.
published an article detailing Mr. Gates’s relationship with Mr. Epstein. The article reported that the two men had spent time together on multiple occasions, flying on Mr. Epstein’s private jet and attending a late-night gathering at his Manhattan townhouse. “His lifestyle is very different and kind of intriguing although it would not work for me,” Mr. Gates emailed colleagues in 2011, after he first met Mr. Epstein.
(Ms. Arnold, the spokeswoman for Mr. Gates, said at the time that he regretted the relationship with Mr. Epstein. She said that Mr. Gates had been unaware that the plane belonged to Mr. Epstein and that Mr. Gates had been referring to the unique décor of Mr. Epstein’s home.)
The Times article included details about Mr. Gates’s interactions with Mr. Epstein that Ms. French Gates had not previously known, according to people familiar with the matter. Soon after its publication she began consulting with divorce lawyers and other advisers who would help the couple divide their assets, one of the people said. The Wall Street Journal previously reported the timing of her lawyers’ hiring.
The revelations in The Times were especially upsetting to Ms. French Gates because she had previously voiced her discomfort with her husband associating with Mr. Epstein, who died by suicide in federal custody in 2019, shortly after being charged with sex trafficking of girls. Ms. French Gates expressed her unease in the fall of 2013 after she and Mr. Gates had dinner with Mr. Epstein at his townhouse, according to people briefed on the dinner and its aftermath. (The incident was reported earlier by The Daily Beast.)
For years, Mr. Gates continued to go to dinners and meetings at Mr. Epstein’s home, where Mr. Epstein usually surrounded himself with young and attractive women, said two people who were there and two others who were told about the gatherings.
Ms. Arnold said Mr. Gates never socialized or attended parties with Mr. Epstein, and she denied that young and attractive women participated at their meetings. “Bill only met with Epstein to discuss philanthropy,” Ms. Arnold said.
On at least one occasion, Mr. Gates remarked in Mr. Epstein’s presence that he was unhappy in his marriage, according to people who heard the comments.
Leon Black, the head of Apollo Investments who had a multifaceted business and personal relationship with Mr. Epstein, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The meeting was held at Apollo’s New York offices.
It is unclear whether Ms. French Gates was aware of the latest meetings with Mr. Epstein. A person who recently spoke to her said that “she decided that it was best for her to leave her marriage as she moved into the next phase of her life.”
Steve Eder and Jodi Kantor contributed reporting.
In the face of mounting pressure from prominent artists and activists about his financial ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the investor Leon Black told colleagues Friday that he would not stand for re-election as the chairman of the Museum of Modern Art, according to two people with knowledge of his decision.
Mr. Black announced his decision to the board’s executive committee at a specially convened remote meeting on Friday afternoon, according to someone with knowledge of the meeting who was granted anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about it. He planned to inform the full board of his intentions when it meets next week.
The news that Mr. Black did not plan to run for re-election as the museum’s chairman in June was the latest fallout from the revelation earlier this year that he had paid $158 million to Mr. Epstein for tax and estate advisory services — payments that began several years after Mr. Epstein had pleaded guilty in 2008 to soliciting prostitution from a teenage girl.
After the size of his payments was revealed in January, Mr. Black had initially announced that he would step down this year as chief executive of Apollo Global Management, the giant private equity firm he co-founded, but added that he intended to remain Apollo’s chairman. On Monday, Apollo made the surprise announcement that Mr. Black, 69, was stepping down as chief executive earlier than anticipated and giving up the chairmanship, citing his and his wife’s health as major factors in the decision.
his dealings with Mr. Epstein, who killed himself inside a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while facing federal sex-trafficking charges.
By several accounts, Mr. Black had also wrestled with how to proceed at MoMA. Mr. Black decided to tell the executive committee that as a longtime supporter of MoMA, he did not want to become a distraction to the institution by seeking another term, said two people briefed on his decision. He is expected to remain on the board after stepping down as chairman.
Several artists and supporters of MoMA had said that Mr. Black’s decision to pay large fees to Mr. Epstein after his conviction — he also lent Mr. Epstein $30 million — raised questions about whether he should continue to represent the institution. Several MoMA trustees came to believe that Mr. Black had become a damaging distraction.
“I would feel ashamed to be associated with the MoMA if it takes a firm position in keeping someone who has been confirmed to have hurt basic values or has worked against truth and fairness,” the artist Ai Weiwei said in an email interview last month. “If so, I hope they won’t include any of my works in their collection.” He said Friday that it was “the right decision” for Mr. Black to step down.
And the recent pressure on Mr. Black from prominent artists and activists promised to escalate, with a 10-week “strike” against MoMA planned to start April 9.
in February had spoken out about Mr. Black, said that he believed that Mr. Black, and several other MoMA board members, should step down from the board altogether.
“MoMA has refused comment on every story that has emerged about Leon Black,” he said in an email. “The museum stays silent while we as artists are asked to speak. Beyond speaking, I look forward to collectively imagining an ecosystem that does not enlist our content to go on display in institutions whose board members create the very conditions in the world that many of us are devoted to dismantling.”
It was not immediately clear who would succeed Mr. Black at MoMA. Among those expected to be in contention are the board’s several vice chairmen as well as Marie-Josée Kravis, its president emerita.
There has been some concern among MoMA trustees that Mr. Black’s stepping down as chairman might jeopardize his potential future gifts of art or money to the museum, given his wealth and his museum-quality personal art collection.
In 2018, the same year he became chairman of the museum’s board, Mr. Black and his wife, Debra, gave $40 million to the museum, prompting MoMA to name its film center after them.
In 2012, he lent MoMA Edvard Munch’s 1895 version of “The Scream” — which he purchased for nearly $120 million — and in 2016, Mr. Black won the right to keep a large Picasso bust for which he had paid about $106 million and that featured prominently in MoMA’s acclaimed Picasso sculpture show.
extended Mr. Lowry’s contract until 2025, making him the longest-serving director since the museum opened in 1929. Mr. Lowry did not respond to requests for comment.