A New Zealand woman who launched proceedings against her Australian employer after she was called a "Kiwi" says the experience has ruined her life.

Julie Savage took her employer Vili Milisits, of Vili's Cakes, to court after she was repetitively called Kiwi over her nine years in the job.

Her employer denied that there was any discrimination or disparagement, and the South Australian Employment Tribunal agreed: it dismissed Savage's complaint.

Savage says the normally colloquial term wasn't used affectionately or in good fun but in a derogatory way when she had to carry out certain tasks.

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NZer Julie Savage said that the managing director of Vili's, Vili Milisits, repeatedly called her 'Kiwi' while she worked as a supervisor. Photo / Supplied
NZer Julie Savage said that the managing director of Vili's, Vili Milisits, repeatedly called her 'Kiwi' while she worked as a supervisor. Photo / Supplied

"I had a Kiwi flag on my desk, I am proud. But that wasn't my name, that's the issue. No-one called me that but him. He used it like it was my name, like 'go and do the dishes, Kiwi', or 'wipe the table, Kiwi'."

Vili's Cakes is famous in Adelaide and boasts 360 employees. It distributes its savoury and sweet goods to 24 countries around the world. Milisits himself has been in the city for about 50 years after immigrating from Hungary.

Things soured between the pair, with Savage eventually taking the bakery boss to the tribunal accusing him of racial discrimination by calling her Kiwi throughout her tenure.

When contacted, Milisits told the Herald he never mistreated Savage and denied using the word in a disparaging way. He said if she had asked for an apology she would have given her one.

In its decision released on November 30 the Tribunal dismissed her complaint stating it "lacks substance".

Vili's Cakes argued there was no basis for the allegation. Absent any other detriment or unfavourable treatment, citizens from New Zealand were referred to and referred to themselves as "Kiwis".

It also argued it was simply Milisits using "colloquial language" in the workplace.

The tribunal ruled in Vili's Cakes favour and agreed that calling a New Zealander a Kiwi wasn't of itself offensive or amount to discrimination.

Speaking exclusively to the Herald, Savage said people had mistakenly thought the case was about one incident involving her being affectionately called a "Kiwi".

But it was far from it, she said.

She was shocked to read that only part of her complaint had been forwarded to the tribunal from the Commissioner.

Vili's Cakes is famous in Adelaide and boasts 360 employees. Photo / @monte_terrier
Vili's Cakes is famous in Adelaide and boasts 360 employees. Photo / @monte_terrier

Both parties initially took part in a mediation process through the Equal Opportunities Commission in April 2017.

There, Savage understood her complaint - which included other claims - had also been forwarded but was annoyed to read only the incidents of Milisits calling her Kiwi had been referred to the Tribunal for ruling.

"We feel like we've been left in the dark," Savage said.

She said Milisits never used the term Kiwi in an endearing way, instead used it to tell her to do various jobs.

"He used that like it was my name."

Savage, her husband and son moved to Adelaide from Auckland in 2006. The following year she got her job at Vili's.

She started off as a short order cook before being promoted to a supervisory role several years later.

Hearing the odd Kiwi joke, whether it was about sheep or just New Zealanders in general, wasn't uncommon and something she would take "on the chin".

But Milisits' persistent use of the word in what she says was a derogatory tone eventually wore her down, she said.

She laid her official complaint in May 2016.

Eighteen months on, the emotional roller coaster had taken its toll, she said.

Savage said she'd gone from being a woman who would do "100 things at once" to suffering depression and losing her self-esteem.

She always had, and always would be, "a proud Kiwi", she said.

The mother of two had sacrificed a lot for the job, she said, adding she worked six days and more than 50 hours a week.

She was disappointed by the tribunal's decision and felt let down by the commission for not referring her other claims. However, she couldn't afford a lawyer to appeal the decision.

"He's an icon in South Australia. Who's going to want to employ me now?"

Her objective wasn't money, all she wanted was an apology, she said.

"I feel this case is a moral victory for me against Vili Milisits and that hopefully he will no longer call people that he employs by another name other than their given name."

Milisits said Savage had never asked for an apology and if she had he would have given her one.

"She never told me she was offended by it. She played along with it."

He said if he was a bad employer she wouldn't have stayed there for so long.

Savage was a good worker which was why he re-hired her after she left for a brief period, he said.

He described himself as a "down to earth" boss who worked on the ground with the other workers always within earshot if something went wrong on the factory floor.