Bill Gates’ money manager of more than 27 years allegedly made racist and sexually offensive remarks, bullied staffers and fostered a culture of fear in the workplace, former employees claimed in a new report.
These former employees described Michael Larson, 61, as a cruel boss who disparaged female employees and retaliated against others who left the firm, Cascade Investment, which is tasked with growing Gates’ massive fortune, The New York Times reported.
Larson allegedly shared photographs with employees of naked women on his phone and compared them to the head of Cascade’s human resources department at the time, the report says.
The Times report also recounts an alleged episode in which Larson was sitting outdoors with a small group of male employees after dinner at a work Christmas party in the mid-2000s. Three female colleagues were about 20 feet away.
"Which one of them do you wanna" have sex with? Larson asked the men, using a profane verb, according to the Times.
Larson allegedly asked another woman at his firm if she would strip for a certain amount of money.
When a female staff member was on a weight loss program, Larson reportedly asked, "Are you losing weight for me?" according to someone who heard the remark, the Times reported.
Larson denied making those comments to the Times, saying, "This is not true."
The Times noted that Larson did not deny all of the allegations.
"During his tenure, Mr. Larson has managed over 380 people, and there have been fewer than five complaints related to him in total," Chris Giglio, Larson’s spokesman, told the Times. "Any complaint was investigated and treated seriously and fully examined, and none merited Mr. Larson’s dismissal."
The report also alleges that after a black employee, Stacy Ybarra, said she had voted one Election Day, Larson told her she lives "in the ghetto, and everybody knows that black people don’t vote."
The Times cited two people who heard the comment and a third who was told about it later.
When Ybarra decided to quit her job at Cascade in 2004, Larson became so angry that he shorted shares of her new company in an effort to deflate its stock price, according to the Times, citing three people familiar with the alleged episode.
Larson would also occasionally denigrate employees as "stupid" and criticize their work as "garbage," the report said.
In a statement to the Times, Larson acknowledged, "Years ago, earlier in my career, I used harsh language that I would not use today. I regret this greatly but have done a lot of work to change."
The allegations against Larson come just weeks after the Gates' announced their separation after 27 years of marriage. The allegations also come as Gates’ carefully crafted public image as a nerdish billionaire philanthropist and champion of women’s empowerment unravels amid renewed scrutiny of his relationship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein and other revelations such as his pursuit of women who worked at Microsoft, the company he founded.
The allegations against Larson, and Gates’ reported knowledge of his longtime money manager’s alleged misconduct, offer more insight into the private operations of Gates and his associates.
At least six people, including four Cascade employees, have complained directly to Gates about Larson’s behavior, the report said, citing former employees and others with direct knowledge of the complaints. Several also complained to Gates’ now-estranged wife, according to the Times.
Cascade made payments to at least seven people who knew about Larson’s behavior so that they’d agree not to speak about their time at the firm, according to the report.
Bridgitt Arnold, a spokeswoman for Gates, told the Times that Bill and Melinda Gates Investments, a name sometimes used to refer to Cascade, "does not tolerate inappropriate behavior."
She added that "any issue raised over the company’s history has been taken seriously and resolved appropriately."
Courtney Wade, a spokeswoman for Melinda French Gates told the Times that she "was unaware of most of these allegations given her lack of ownership of and control over BMGI."