Women Interviewing for Bill Gates’s Private Office Were Asked Sexually Explicit Questions

From a Wall Street Journal story by Khadeeja Safdar and Emily Glazer headlined “Women Interviewing for Bill Gates’s Private Office Were Asked Sexually Explicit Questions”:

Some people who sought jobs at billionaire Bill Gates’s private office described going through an extensive screening process that included being questioned by a security firm about their sexual histories, past drug use and other parts of their private lives that might indicate they were vulnerable to blackmail.

Some female job candidates were asked whether they ever had extramarital affairs, what kind of pornography they preferred or if they had nude photographs of themselves on their phones, according to the candidates and people familiar with the hiring process. While it couldn’t be determined whether any men were asked such questions, none who spoke to The Wall Street Journal said they had.

Female candidates sometimes were asked whether they had ever “danced for dollars,” some of the people said. One of the candidates was asked whether she had ever contracted a sexually transmitted disease, according to the candidate.

A spokeswoman for Gates said his private office, Gates Ventures, hasn’t heard about such questions being asked during background checks done by third-party contractors. “This line of questioning would be unacceptable and a violation of Gates Ventures’ agreement with the contractor” who must comply with pre-employment screening laws, she said.

The people said the screenings were conducted in recent years by a security consulting firm called Concentric Advisors, and the interviewers were ultimately trying to find any information that had the potential to be used to compromise or blackmail individuals who would be working closely with one of the world’s richest men.

Concentric said its protocols comply with applicable laws.

Gates himself also has had multiple extramarital affairs and had meetings with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender, the Journal has reported. Gates has said it was a mistake to associate with Epstein.

Employment lawyers and security consultants said the process these people described could run afoul of state and federal employment discrimination laws. For certain high-security government roles, such questions may be more acceptable, they said.

Carol Miaskoff, legal counsel of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said any questions about a candidate’s health or psychiatric history before a job offer “is just flat out prohibited by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act” regardless of who does the questioning during the application process.

Questions related to past illegal drug use could violate the same law since they may reveal an addiction, which is considered a disability, she said. Instead, Miaskoff said an employer can ask if a candidate is currently using drugs illegally or get consent for a drug test.

“There’s not a black letter law prohibition on asking questions related to sex,” Miaskoff said, but “getting the information and taking some adverse action with that information” such as rejecting the candidate could lay the basis for a legal challenge.

The Gates spokeswoman said Gates Ventures, which was previously known as bgC3, follows careful due diligence when hiring staff and that it works with contractors to perform industry-standard pre-employment screenings for men and women. She said it requires all vendors to operate in compliance with state and federal laws and regulations.

“We have never received information from any vendor or interviewee in our 15+ year history that inappropriate questions were asked during the screening process,” she said in a statement. “We can confirm, that after a comprehensive review of our records, no employment offer has ever been rescinded based on information of this nature.”

Concentric CEO Mike LeFever said that the company provides industry-standard background checks for hundreds of companies and its pre-employment interview protocol, which is identical for men and women, is compliant with laws in each state and nation where it provides services.

Asked how questions about sexual or medical histories comply with laws, a spokesman for Concentric denied it initiated such questions and said such information can be volunteered by job candidates when asked about public records. The Concentric spokesman said the company doesn’t provide hiring recommendations as part of its security-screening business.

The security screening involves “assessing a candidate’s truthfulness and vulnerability to blackmail, which often starts with voluntary statements by the candidate with follow-up questions by company interviewers,” the spokesman said. Not all information discussed in a Concentric security screening is included in the reports it provides to clients, he said.

Job candidates disputed Concentric’s characterization, saying they were asked about sensitive information and didn’t volunteer it. They also said they were informed that their job offers were conditional on passing the assessments. Documents also are at odds with the contention that the screening process wasn’t for employment purposes.

A consent form, reviewed by the Journal, said a behavioral assessment by a Concentric professional would be used to “assess suitability for employment” by Gates’s private office and would include drug and alcohol history as well as past medical and psychiatric history as it relates to the job.

The form, requiring a signature from the job candidate, gave permission to disclose the results from the assessment to Gates’s private office, including “highly sensitive information,” and “does not allow for the re-disclosure of sexually transmitted diseases,” the document shows.

Some people who worked for Gates’s private office said they didn’t undergo such questioning.

Gates himself was investigated in 2019 by Microsoft board members over allegations of a past sexual relationship with a Microsoft employee. Epstein appeared to attempt to blackmail Gates in 2017 over a different affair with a Russian bridge player, the Journal has reported. Gates’s spokespeople have said that he had a consensual relationship with the Microsoft employee about two decades ago, and that Epstein tried unsuccessfully to leverage the past relationship with the Russian woman.

The Microsoft co-founder has hundreds of people who work for several entities he controls, including Gates Ventures, private aircraft, horse stables and a company that oversees household staff and security. These workers are hired directly for these entities and they aren’t employees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or Microsoft.

Concentric describes itself as a risk-management firm that has several former Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation officials on its staff. It has worked with private family offices for almost two decades, providing pre-employment checks and mitigating risks posed by individuals with “potentially nefarious motives,” according to its website.

Concentric’s headquarters are in the same lakefront office park in Kirkland, Wash., as Gates Ventures.

Informally, Gates employees would warn job candidates that a “former CIA agent” would be drilling into medical information, past drug use and relationships, including former sexual partners, some people said.

Employment lawyers said questions about a job candidate’s medical or psychiatric history are illegal, even if part of a security screening for a private office. If a job candidate signs a consent form, it doesn’t make the questions legal, they said.

Questions about a candidate’s sexual history or preferences are “deeply offensive and it has nothing I can conceive of whether a person can do a job,” said Lindsay Halm, a Seattle-based employment lawyer. “I suppose if you’re working at a sex toy store or an adult film store where you might conceivably have a job-related question about that.”

A typical pre-employment background investigation includes an examination of public records and databases, confirmation of resume content and reference checks in addition to an interview confirming job qualification details, the applicant’s background and whether the candidate would be a good fit for the company, said Daniel Karson, a security industry veteran and former executive for business investigations firm Kroll Associates.

“I have never encountered that kind of questioning in a pre-employment background investigation in the private sector,” he said, referring to the questions related to sexual or medical history.

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